In a perfect world, athletes would always live up to the roles we assign to them. They would set good examples and inspire the rest of us.
In the real world, athletes carry the same bruises and imperfections as the people who are looking to them for inspiration.
Sometimes they overcome the odds and live up to the ideals that the uniforms and celebrity unrealistically confer upon them.
And sometimes they just reaffirm that there is much about the human condition we will never understand and the potential for violence is never far enough away.
It can erupt on a Saturday morning in the home of a couple awaiting their first Christmas with their newborn child. It can continue in a parking lot that thousands of sports fans travel through on game day, in the presence of two leaders who thought they had experienced the worst that a season could bring, until a young man with a handgun showed them and the city how deeply the tentacles of trouble can reach.
Instead of demonstrating to kids and others the heights to which one can rise, Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher showed us the depths to which one can descend.
In the space of a few moments, he became a symbol of what is worst about Kansas City. That is our homicide record. We will close above 100 murders this year, a grim threshold that the city attains with dismal frequency. Most of those killings are among people who know each other, many among people who supposedly love each other.
Kansas City quickly responded to Belcher’s suicide and the murder of his girlfriend, 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins, by gathering up money and toys for their infant daughter, who is now orphaned.
That was the right thing to do and typical of the way this community responds to tough circumstances.
It is important to remember, however, that dozens of children in Kansas City lose parents to violence every year, and efforts are far better spent on prevention than on the disastrous aftermath.
Holidays are a peak time for domestic violence. If you know someone who is susceptible or at risk of abuse, the events of this weekend are best used as a catalyst for intervention.
In a crisis, a nationwide domestic abuse hotline can be reached at 800-799-7233. A suicide prevention lifeline can be accessed at 800-273-8255.
We need to support efforts that aim to teach youths and adults healthy coping skills. We should embrace programs that match youths with good mentors. And we should remember that the best mentors youths can find ought to be those in their own homes.
Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.