Target: Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League
Goal: Connect players struggling with depression and substance abuse with the appropriate mental health resources
Recently, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher took his own life and that of the mother of his three-month-old daughter in a murder-suicide that has left fans and friends grasping for answers.
Following a domestic dispute, the 25-year-old football player shot and killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins before shooting himself in the head in front of his coaches. This gruesome display of violence is unfortunately only the latest in a long string of football-related suicides, leading some to wonder if more could be done to palliate mental illness within the National Football League (NFL).
Friends of Belcher have reported that the linebacker had been abusing drugs and alcohol for some time before the incident that orphaned his three-month-old daughter, Zoe. He allegedly binge-drank “on a nightly basis” and regularly abused prescription medication. While no one will ever know the true motive behind Belcher’s horrific act, friends have speculated that substance abuse combined with brain damage from injuries on the field may have contributed to his deadly behavior. An anonymous source close to Belcher alleged that “a combination of alcohol, concussions, and prescription drugs put him in a state that he would not otherwise be in.”
Belcher was not the first NFL player to suffer from deadly mental health issues. In the past two years alone, former NFL players Junior Seau and Dave Duerson also died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Research indicates that repeated concussions incurred during years of playing football can lead to a brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can cause severe depression.
The physical risks and ramifications of playing football are well-documented, but the mental effects of the sport can be just as deadly. With proper support, treatment, and awareness, players across the NFL might be better equipped to avoid the kind of illness that led to Belcher’s murder-suicide. Urge the commissioner of the NFL to set up a support network for players struggling with substance abuse, depression, and other serious conditions by signing the petition below.