A Kansas City Chiefs linebacker was suffering from concussion-related brain damage when he went on a rampage and killed his girlfriend and then himself in 2012, a new lawsuit claims, and the player’s mother wants to hold the team responsible.
Jovan Belcher, a 25-year-old linebacker for the Chiefs, shot his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, nine times before driving to the stadium in Kansas City, Mo., and killing himself in front of team staff on Dec. 1, 2012.
In a wrongful-death lawsuit filed Tuesday against the team in Jackson County, Mo., Belcher’s mother, Cheryl Shepherd, said Chiefs officials “directly caused or directly contributed” to Belcher developing “irresistable” and “insane” impulses because of brain damage he sustained while playing for the team.
“Over the course of a four-year career in the National Football League, Jovan unknowingly sacrificed his brain in order to provide for his family,” the lawsuit states. “Tragically, the Defendants’ wrongful conduct destroyed multiple lives, tore apart families and ultimately caused or contributed to cause Jovan’s death.”
A Chiefs spokeswoman told The Times on Wednesday that team officials had no plans to comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit opens another chapter for football officials, who have been grappling with mounting evidence that many of the sport’s players have contracted mental disorders after suffering multiple concussions over the years.
In August, the NFL reached a tentative $765-million legal settlement with former players after several athletes were diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative cognitive condition.
Several players who have committed suicide in recent years, including San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, were diagnosed with the disorder, commonly called CTE.
The Belcher lawsuit was filed 2 1/2 weeks after his body was exhumed in Long Island, N.Y., to search for signs of concussion-related degeneration.
The lawsuit also claims the Chiefs coaching staff and front office administrators “engaged in a systematic campaign of mental abuse to ‘motivate’ [Belcher] to play through his injuries,” including calling him a “mistake” and threatening to kick him off the team.
The lawsuit also says the team failed to appropriately hold Belcher back from play at least twice after he suffered concussions, including a Nov. 18, 2012, game against the Cincinnati Bengals. After that game friends and family noticed that Belcher began to show "memory loss confusion, depression, mood swings and explosivity.”
“He was pretty convinced he’d suffered multiple concussions that last year,” a friend, Kash Kiefer, told Bleacher Report after Belcher’s death. “He was not himself. I remember a bunch of times he would lose his train of thought while talking to me. He’d be talking about something, and he would just blank. I’d say, ‘Man, are you OK?’ and he’d come back ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.’ But he was skipping over thoughts, unable to gather it all together. That was new.”