NFL 'slow' to embrace mental health support 10 years after Jovan Belcher tragedy

Bruno Cooke January 24, 2023
NFL 'slow' to embrace mental health support 10 years after Jovan Belcher tragedy
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

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It’s been just over 10 years since the death of Jovan Belcher and his then-22-year-old girlfriend Kasandra M Perkins, and roughly nine and a half years since a judge awarded Kasandra’s cousin Sophie custody of their daughter, Zoey.

ESPN reported at length on the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the death of Belcher and Perkins on December 1, 2012.

He reportedly fatally shot Kasandra; drove to Arrowhead Stadium; and took his own life in front of his coach and general manager.

He was 25 years old at the time, and hailed from West Babylon, New York, on Long Island. He played college ball at Maine.

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

How old is Jovan Belcher’s daughter now, in 2023?

She is 10 years old. When USA Today reported on the newly released autopsy results on January 14, 2013, Jovan Belcher’s daughter was four months old.

The autopsy revealed that Belcher’s blood contained 170mg of ethanol per deciliter (dL). In other words, he had a blood alcohol content level about twice as high as the legal limit for driving in Missouri. Perkins had “almost no alcohol in her system,” the outlet cites the report as saying.

“Just taking it at face value,” in the words of Maryland consulting toxicologist, “it’s .17. And .17 is twice as much, and therefore he was drunk and probably drunk at the time of his death.”

That was in January 10 years ago, meaning Jovan Belcher’s daughter’s age is now 10 years plus four months, give or take.

Who was awarded custody of Zoey Perkins after her parents’ deaths?

About six months after the deaths of both of her parents, NFL reported that a judge had awarded custody of Jovan Belcher’s daughter Zoey to his late wife’s first cousin, Sophie Perkins.

At the time, she lived in Texas. Jackson County probate commissioner Daniel Wheeler issued an order in June 2013 granting custody of Zoey Perkins to Sophie – of Pflugerville.

The hearing lasted three days. During it, Sophie Perkins and Jovan Belcher’s mother, Cheryl Shepherd, presented their case as to why they would be the best guardian for Zoey. 

The order stated that the judge believed Sophie was “more suited than Belcher’s mother to be the baby’s guardian,” per NFL.

Jovan Belcher’s daughter had ‘mostly stayed with Perkins’ between the two dates anyway

NFL notes that, besides some trips to New York to visit her father’s mother, Zoey Perkins had spent most of the interim period in Texas, with Sophie. 

This time played a role in the judge’s decision. 

The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement meant that Zoey was to receive more than $1 million. As per NFL’s reporting at the time, that included $108,000 every year for four years (i.e., from 2013 to 2016, inclusive), $48,000 in 2017, and $52,000 every year until she reaches the age of 18.

If she chooses to go to college, she will receive $52,000 annually until she is 23. Given that she is currently 10 years old, she still has up to 13 years of compensation ahead of her.

Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Why are people reflecting on Belcher’s story now?

Every now and then, conversations about the physical and/or mental stress of being an NFL player circulate online. They seem to be doing so now.

Russell Gage recently suffered a “scary hit”; Dalton Schultz and others have started wearing Q-Collars because of the dangers of the sport; and reports have emerged in the last few days that the NFL has been “slow to embrace mental health support” for players.

Everyday Health has details of nine football players who have spoken publicly about their mental health. But they are still in the minority. And yet, as recently as this month (January 2023), NFL players, personnel and fans watched in “shock and horror” as Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest mid-game. This not only reflects the physical dangers of the sport, but will likely have repercussions as regards mental health, in the future.

All of which has the potential to put people in mind of past tragedies to have befallen the sport’s wider community. 

If you are affected by any issues raised in the article or would like someone to speak to, please call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. You can also email them at [email protected] or visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch in the UK. In the US, please visit Samaritans USA for more information. You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text 741741 to get in touch with the Crisis Text Line. Americans can now call or text 988 to reach out and speak to a counsellor.

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Bruno Cooke has been a freelance journalist since 2019, primarily with GRV Media. He was an early contributor to The Focus, and has written for HITC, Groundviews and the Sheffield University newspaper – he earned his MA in Global Journalism there in 2021. He’s the Spoken Word Poetry Editor for The Friday Poem, and self-published his debut novel Reveries in 2019, which his mum called both a “fine read” and “excellent Christmas present”. Bruno has lived in China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines and likes, among other things: bicycle touring, black and white Japanese films, pub quizzes, fermentation and baklava. In 2023, Bruno will set off with his partner on a round-the-world cycle.