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Agree or not, Chiefs want to play Sunday in wake of Belcher murder-suicide

by | NFL Insider
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There wasn't solely a sense of shock around the NFL after the tragic murder-suicide involving Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. There was almost unparalleled disbelief, a palpable sense of panic and a feeling that the entire sport had been dipped into an alternate reality.

No one knew what to say or do. At least, in the immediate aftermath, they didn't. "I can't talk now," one player on an NFC team told me. "I need time to process this."

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Confusion and anger emerged from all corners of the sport. One player suggested that the entire slate of games should have been canceled out of respect for the victim who was killed. A team personnel man stated that from now on, maybe everyone -- including players and coaches -- who enters an NFL team facility should have their car searched and must pass through a metal detector.

An assistant coach on an NFC team said his staff would address the tragedy with his team on Saturday night. They also would make counseling available to every player who wanted it. He imagined every NFL team would do the same.

The last time I saw the NFL this shaken apart at the seams was after the Sept. 11 attacks. Before that, it was when Rae Carruth murdered a woman pregnant with his child.

But as has happened many times, in many decades over the life of this sport, leaders emerged, and rational thinking prevailed. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and union head DeMaurice Smith had a lengthy conversation about whether the Chiefs should play Sunday. The union was on board. The union had been in extensive talks with Chiefs union reps and a general sentiment emerged from the players that they should play.

A source close to the situation said the prevailing notion among those players was that football would be a cure to the pain, not a distraction.

I came ready to blast the decision to play but after talking to people around the league this decision contains a lot of gray area. Like in many of these cases, the answers are not easy.

There is one major concern, however: when will Chiefs players have a chance to grieve?

This isn't war; this is a game. And while soldiers are sometimes engrossed in horrid battles that prevent them from grieving over lost buddies -- or simply expressing anger at the situation -- the NFL could have given the Chiefs time to reflect by postponing Sunday's game against Carolina.

But if this is what the Chiefs players wanted -- and it is -- then how do you not let them play?

See the problem?

There's little doubt, based on everything I'm told, that if the Chiefs players didn't want to play, the NFL would have canceled the game. I genuinely believe this wasn't about money or keeping the status quo. This was about what the Kansas City players wanted to do.

It can be argued that the players are in such a state of shock that they don't know what they wanted, and the decision should have been made for them.

In the days and weeks to come, we'll know more about what happened, and some of what emerges may stun us even more.

But for now, the game goes on. Agree or not, it goes on.

So will the surrealism of it all.

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