Jovan Belcher wrote a feel-good story prior to his tragic and untimely death in the fall of 2012.
The unheralded Kansas City Chiefs linebacker signed with the team as an undrafted free agent in the spring of 2009.
Fast forward two seasons later, he was already a starting linebacker for an up-and-down Chiefs squad.
Belcher was making strides on the gridiron when tragedy struck on December 1, 2012.
On that day, Belcher shot his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins before taking his own life in front of Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel.
It turned out Belcher, who was discovered to have CTE in 2014, couldn’t exorcise several demons in his personal life in the months leading up to his untimely death.
Jovan Henry Allen Belcher was born to parents John and Cheryl in West Babylon, NY on July 24, 1987. He has three older sisters.
Cheryl Shepherd raised her four children by herself during Jovan’s formative years in New York. Her work ethic and determination eventually lit a fire in him.
“My mother is a hardworking woman,” Belcher told USA TODAY’s Gary Mihoces in 2012. “To see her overcome some things and succeed, it makes me look at things and say, ‘This isn’t even hard.'”
Belcher attended West Babylon High School in his hometown. He excelled in wrestling and football for the West Babylon Eagles.
Belcher was a jack of all trades who played tackle, linebacker, nose guard, and fullback for Eagles head football coach Albert Ritacco.
Since Belcher was a young boy growing up in West Babylon, NY, a town in Long Island, he had always wanted to play in the National Football League.
As a ninth grader, Belcher told Ritacco about his lofty ambition. The latter, in turn, was impressed with his protegé’s determination.
“He just had that inner drive that you can’t give to somebody,” Ritacco told The New York Times in December 2012. “When you’re in ninth grade and you tell your coach that you’re going to make it in the pros, that’s something you don’t really find, not only in kids, but in adults.”
— Mona Rivera (@iMonaRivera) December 3, 2012
Ritacco also confirmed to the New York Daily News in 2012 that Belcher had a spotless track record in high school. He was a youngster of high character who never had any issues.
As Jovan Belcher’s high school football career wound down, he made strides toward accomplishing his lifelong dream.
Belcher, who served as West Babylon High’s captain for two years, led the Eagles to two playoff stints in the Long Island Football Championships.
Behind Belcher’s exploits on both sides of the ball, the Eagles went undefeated in the regular season in his senior season in 2004. Unfortunately, West Babylon High lost in the title game.
The Maine Black Bears were the only program that dangled a football scholarship to Belcher, per Sports Illustrated’s David Epstein.
He readily accepted and promptly exceeded expectations on the college gridiron and in the classroom for the next four years of his football journey.
College Days With The Maine Black Bears
Jovan Belcher attended the University of Maine from 2005 to 2008. Belcher, who majored in child development and family relations, suited up for Maine Black Bears head football coach Jack Cosgrove.
Belcher was active off the college gridiron. He mentored and acted as a role model to six-to-15-year-old kids as a member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
Belcher was also a participant in the Male Athletes Against Violence group, which aimed to prevent domestic violence.
Although Jovan Belcher was a quiet and introspective young man who racked up achievements in the classroom and on the college gridiron, he wasn’t perfect.
Belcher once made the entire Black Bears football team run as punishment after he broke a glass panel out of anger. His emotions got the better of him after an argument with his college girlfriend, Jessica Higgins.
Cosgrove also knew about Belcher’s track record with women.
“Everyone has a dark side,” Cosgrove told Sports Illustrated in December 2012. “I do know that for all (of) Jovan’s successes, he didn’t have successful relationships with women.”
Belcher was tenacious on the college football field. It was a far cry from his quiet nature off it.
“You’re in the trenches, that’s that’s where it all starts,” Belcher told the Bangor Daily News (via USA TODAY). “It’s basically a fist fight every play.”
Although Belcher was unrelenting on the college gridiron, he lightened up as soon as he found out his mother Cheryl was going to watch him play.
Former Maine defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Dwayne Wilmot told Mihoces in 2012 that family meant everything to Jovan Belcher,
His family turned up in droves for every Black Bears home game. Belcher, in turn, used his platform as a student-athlete to make them proud.
Wilmot’s assessment of Belcher’s character was consistent with the latter’s high school coach, Albert Ritacco. They both saw him as a determined individual who stopped at nothing to achieve his goals on and off the gridiron.
“If he had the opportunity, he’d make the most of it,” Wilmot told USA TODAY in 2012.
From 5-year-old Boston Globe story on Jovan Belcher: His major at University of Maine was Child Development and Family Relations.
— Peter King (@peter_king) December 1, 2012
Jovan Belcher started all 21 games for the Black Bears as an outside linebacker in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Maine won an average of six games per season from 2005 to 2006. Consequently, the Black Bears extended their postseason drought to five years.
Belcher switched to defensive end as a junior in 2007. He had a CAA-leading 10.0 sacks and 17.0 tackles for loss that year. Although the Black Bears won just four games in Belcher’s junior campaign, he earned Associated Press All-America Second-Team honors.
Belcher continued wreaking havoc on the opposition as a senior. He had 7.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in 2008.
Maine turned its fortunes around with an 8-5 win-loss record that year. Regrettably, the Black Bears lost to the Northern Iowa Panthers in the NCAA Division I FCS First Round, 40-15.
Nevertheless, Jovan Belcher earned several accolades at the end of his college football career.
Belcher earned First-Team All-American honors from the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and the Walter Camp Foundation in December 2008. He earned Second-Team All-American honors as a junior the previous year.
After his college days, undrafted free agent Jovan Belcher rose from the ashes and become one of the main cogs in the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense in the National Football League from 2009 to 2012.
Pro Football Career
The Kansas City Chiefs signed Jovan Belcher as an undrafted free agent in March 2009.
Belcher earned more accolades from his college days with the Maine Black Bears during his rookie year in the National Football League.
Belcher won the Sports’ Scholar-Baller Program Academic Momentum and the National Consortium for Academics awards in 2009, per USA TODAY.
Belcher’s high school team, the West Babylon Eagles, retired his No. 52 jersey during his four-year stint with the Chiefs.
Belcher visited his high school frequently and gave passionate pre-game speeches to the younger generations of West Babylon Eagles football players.
Eagles assistant football coach Frank Riviezzo told The New York Times in 2012 that the players were riveted whenever Belcher gave his pre-game speeches. He talked to them about the real world, integrity, and reaching their full potential.
— Josh Looney (@JoshLooney) August 9, 2012
Since Belcher turned pro in the spring of 2009, he paid for the expenses of an annual Fourth of July party in his West Babylon, NY neighborhood. He also looked after a lot of his friends and family members after donning Kansas City Chiefs red, gold, and white.
“He took care of his mom. He took care of a lot of people,” Belcher’s neighbor Troy Brown told The New York Times in 2012.
Belcher was an active member of the Kansas City, MO community during his short, four-year tenure with the Chiefs. He was a regular fixture at charitable and community events in the area, per Mihoces.
Jovan Belcher started three of the Chiefs’ 16 games in the 2009 NFL campaign. He had 46 solo tackles and two tackles for loss in Kansas City’s 4-12 campaign that year. The Chiefs extended their postseason drought to three years under first-year head coach Todd Haley.
Belcher became a starter at linebacker in his second pro football season in 2010. He had 53 solo tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, and one forced fumble that year.
Behind Belcher’s emergence, the Chiefs won ten games in 2010. It was their best record in five seasons.
Alas, the Chiefs lost to Ray Lewis’ Baltimore Ravens in the 2010 AFC Wild Card Game in humiliating fashion, 30-7.
Belcher also met his eventual girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, in 2010. Perkins’ cousin Whitney – the wife of Belcher’s Chiefs teammate Jamaal Charles – introduced them, per the New York Post.
Belcher started all of Kansas City’s 16 games the following season. He had 61 solo tackles and 2.0 tackles for loss for the Chiefs in 2011.
The Chiefs regressed and won just seven games that year. The team dismissed Todd Haley on December 12, 2011, after Kansas City won just five of its first thirteen games. The Chiefs promoted defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to their head coaching position.
Belcher signed a one-year contract extension with the Chiefs in March 2012 worth approximately $1.9 million, per USA TODAY.
According to Epstein, Kasandra Perkins was essentially Jovan Belcher’s wife although they weren’t married. In fact, they referred to each other as husband and wife. Belcher’s mother also referred to Perkins as her daughter.
Unfortunately, some of the couple’s friends noticed that their relationship began to deteriorate when Jovan’s football career took off and when Zoey, their daughter, was born early in the 2012 NFL season.
Belcher often drank and hung out with his Chiefs teammates late into the night at this point in his pro football career.
— Danny Parkins (@DannyParkins) December 2, 2012
Belcher also grew irritated when Perkins didn’t clean their house when Zoey was already around. For her part, Kassandra wanted to move into a different house.
She eventually did, but she moved in without Belcher. Perkins first stayed with Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles and his family. His wife Whitney is Perkins’ cousin. Before long, she rejoined her family in Texas.
Perkins and Belcher eventually got back together. The latter’s mother Cheryl Shepherd flew in from West Babylon, NY to help take care of young Zoey as well.
Perkins’ college friend Brianne York told Epstein that the couple loved spending time at gun ranges. When York visited them once, she saw a handgun sitting on their kitchen table.
Another friend also told Sports Illustrated that he saw one of Belcher’s rifles resting on a chair in his room. Ironically, his old friends from West Babylon, NY were clueless about his fascination with guns.
Just as Jovan Belcher approached the homestretch of his fourth pro football season, he experienced an unspeakable tragedy that has rocked the National Football League to the present day.
Jovan Belcher’s Tragic and Untimely Death
Sadly, Jovan Belcher took his own life on December 1, 2012. He was 25 years old.
Belcher and Perkins had frequent arguments in the days leading up to his death. A source told The Kansas City Star’s Christine Vendel that Belcher resented Perkins going home at 1 a.m. after watching a Trey Songz concert.
Perkins then left for the Power and Light District, a popular nightclub area in Kansas City, MO after their heated argument.
Belcher and another woman hung out at the same venue. When Belcher couldn’t find the other woman anymore, he went to her apartment but she wasn’t there.
Belcher eventually passed out in his 2007 Bentley which was parked outside the woman’s apartment just before 3 a.m.
When police found Belcher in his car, he told them he was waiting for his girlfriend. However, he claimed he got locked out of her apartment.
USA TODAY Sports’ Lindsay H. Jones identified the alleged girlfriend as Britney Glass, a woman Belcher had been dating since March 2012.
Authorities encouraged Belcher to go back inside the apartment, where neighbors buzzed him in. He spent the next several hours there before returning home, per the New York Post.
Belcher didn’t get home until almost 7:00 a.m. the following day. When he did, he got into an argument with Perkins.
Belcher took a handgun and shot Perkins nine times in the master bathroom in front of his mother, Cheryl Shepherd.
Belcher then left his house and drove his brand-new Bentley to the Chiefs’ practice facility.
As soon as Belcher left, his mother called 911 and asked for immediate medical attention for Perkins.
Not only that, but a recording of her phone call also revealed that she tried to motivate Perkins while emergency responders were on their way to the house.
Belcher’s mother also told investigators that the couple’s argument stemmed from Belcher allegedly not being the father of Zoey.
“She told (police) there was a question about the paternity,” a Kansas City, MO-based law enforcement source told the New York Post in December 2012.
Before Belcher fled the scene, he apologized and kissed Perkins and his daughter, per The Kansas City Star.
Once Belcher arrived at the Chiefs’ practice facility, he was holding a different handgun when he ran into Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli.
Belcher thanked Pioli for signing him three-and-a-half years earlier. He then admitted to the latter that he just murdered his girlfriend.
Belcher also asked Pioli to tell Chiefs owner Clark Hunt to take care of his daughter, Zoey.
At that point, Belcher wanted to talk to his head coach, Romeo Crennel. Pioli obliged and brought Crennel out of the Chiefs’ practice facility. Belcher thanked him as soon as he saw him.
Both Pioli and Crennel implored Belcher to drop his weapon. However, Belcher refused. At just past 8:00 a.m. central time, police sirens blared in the background.
Belcher walked roughly 20 feet from Pioli and Crennel. The Chiefs linebacker then knelt beside a vehicle, made the sign of the cross, pointed the gun at his head, and pulled the trigger.
Crennel told Belcher all hope wasn’t lost moments before he killed himself.
“I was trying to get him to understand that life is not over, he still has a chance, and let’s get this worked out,” Crennel told The New York Times two days after Belcher’s death.
Crennel also told The New York Times that he had never seen Belcher with a gun before his fatal suicide.
Kansas City authorities believe Jovan Belcher killed himself because murdering Perkins weighed heavily on his conscience.
“He cared about her,” Police Sgt. Richard Sharp told The Kansas City Star in December 2012. “I don’t think he could live with himself.”
The Chiefs also referred Belcher and Perkins to a counselor to help them sort out their issues, per the New York Post.
Britney Glass, the woman Jovan Belcher had been dating for nine months prior to his death, told police (via USA TODAY Sports) that he sent her a text message saying he would “shoot (Perkins) if she did not leave him alone.”
Belcher also allegedly told Glass in a text message that Perkins threatened to take his NFL earnings and their daughter once they parted ways.
An unnamed friend of Jovan Belcher told Deadspin.com’s Isaac Rauch that Belcher and Perkins had separated just two weeks prior to the tragic incident. They reconciled a few days before their lives were tragically cut short.
The friend said Belcher struggled with alcohol, painkillers, concussions, and personal problems in the weeks leading up to his death. He also confirmed to Deadspin.com via email that the Chiefs linebacker consumed alcohol heavily at the time.
Belcher exchanged text messages with Reggie Paramoure, his college teammate with the Maine Black Bears, the night before he passed away.
Paramoure told Belcher (via Sports Illustrated) about the Chiefs’ horrendous 1-10 start in the 2012 NFL season (Kansas City eventually finished with an abysmal 2-14 win-loss record). The former also asked him what he had been doing off the gridiron well into his fourth pro football season.
Belcher acknowledged that Kansas City can’t put points on the board. Hence, the Chiefs can’t win ball games. He texted Paramoure and told him he was fond of his three-month-old daughter, Zoey.
Paramoure joked Belcher should stock up on guns to protect baby Zoey from her future boyfriends. Belcher told him he already had eight guns at the time – a range that included several handguns and assault rifles.
Belcher ended their exchange by telling Paramoure all was well and that he was trying to play his best football so that he can get a new contract from Chiefs management.
Jovan Belcher was dead the following day.
Paramoure was in disbelief. He told Epstein that Belcher was a soft-spoken individual who had an emotional side – a trait that made Belcher stand out on the gridiron.
Many of Belcher’s family members and peers never expected his life to end the way it did. Apparently, many people never knew what bothered Belcher, a man who tutored kids in church and was into “Family Guy” and photography.
“I’d never seen any outbursts,” Belcher’s uncle, Willis Miles, told Sports Illustrated nine days after his nephew’s death.
According to the terms of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, the estate or guardian of Jovan Belcher’s daughter Zoey will get more than $1 million.
Zoey Belcher received $108,000 yearly from 2012 to 2016. She received $48,000 annually in 2017 and will receive $52,000 annually until she turns 18 years old.
If she goes to college, she will receive $52,000 until she’s 23 years old, per ESPN.
Kasandra Perkins’ family members told the New York Post that they would raise Zoey in the aftermath of her mother’s funeral service in Texas. Jovan Belcher’s name wasn’t mentioned during the event.
Belcher’s mother Cheryl Shepherd requested authorities to exhume her son’s body one year after his death. Lawyer Dirk Vandever told ESPN’s Steve Delsohn that Shepherd made the request so specialists could examine his brain.
At the time, Shepherd filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Kansas City Chiefs alleging that they neglected her son’s mental state and allowed him to continue playing football despite his predicament.
Autopsy findings confirmed that Jovan Belcher had signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disorder, at the time of his death in December 2012.
Belcher’s friend told Deadspin.com that the Chiefs linebacker took several blows to the head during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals on November 18, 2012. It was Belcher’s last start in the National Football League.
Consequently, Belcher felt dazed and experienced short-term memory loss. He couldn’t recall the events that transpired before the game against the Bengals.