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Unknowable
DAVID EPSTEIN
December 10, 2012
The horror and tragedy of the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide make clear that even the spotlight of big-time sports and the immediacy of social media cannot fully illumine the human heart
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December 10, 2012

Unknowable

The horror and tragedy of the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide make clear that even the spotlight of big-time sports and the immediacy of social media cannot fully illumine the human heart

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Belcher graduated with a degree in child development and family relations. He was a mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. (Belcher was raised by his mother and older sisters.) He participated in the university's Male Athletes Against Violence group, which seeks to educate men about their role in the prevention of domestic violence. He was humble, the proverbial man of few words.

In late October, when Belcher was in West Babylon for his high school's homecoming game, he avoided the sideline lest he be asked to give a speech. "To get him loud," says Ollie Roy, 30, a longtime friend from the area, "you'd really have to piss him off."

It could, however, be done.

According to Steven Barker, a former defensive back at Maine, Belcher once had to get stitches in his thumb after he punched a glass panel during an argument with Jessica Higgins, his long-term college girlfriend. The team was forced to run as punishment. "They had their arguments and fights," Barker says, "but nothing crazy." It was, as far as anyone knows, an isolated incident. Most of the time, Belcher was the ideal student-athlete.

Still, Cosgrove knew better than to presume that he could see everything inside his misfit toys. "Everyone has a dark side," he said on Saturday on Maine's campus. "I do know that for all Jovan's successes, he didn't have successful relationships with women."

Kasandra Perkins, 22, was, technically, a girlfriend. But for all intents and purposes, she was a spouse. Belcher and Perkins referred to one another as husband and wife, and Belcher's mother called Perkins her daughter. Belcher brought Perkins and her relatives to a Fourth of July block party in West Babylon last year. On Matthews Avenue, the block where Belcher grew up, it was a big deal.

West Babylon is 80% white, but a small geographic triangle that residents refer to as "the CMG"—because it contains Commander, Matthews and Gordon avenues—is overwhelmingly African-American, and extremely close-knit. Bringing a significant other from out of town to the CMG really meant something.

Roy saw Belcher at the July 4th party and again on the block this October. Belcher was friendly—he knocked on Roy's door, as always—but, to Roy's surprise, did not mention his daughter, Zoey, born on Sept. 11 in Kansas City. People who knew Belcher and Perkins in Kansas City had seen the cracks developing in their relationship.

Brianne York, 21, befriended Perkins at Metropolitan Community College--Blue River in Independence, Mo., and noticed that football and a new child were straining Belcher and Perkins's relationship. Perkins would mention, unhappily, that Belcher was often out late doing "team bonding stuff," she says. According to another of Perkins's friends, Devene Dunson-Rusher, team bonding sometimes meant drinking, and Perkins was uneasy with some of the Chiefs players with whom Belcher was carousing. Before Zoey was born, says Dunson-Rusher, Belcher wanted Perkins to get a job. After the birth, according to York, Belcher was upset when she didn't clean the house. According to Belcher's friends, Perkins wanted to upgrade their lifestyle and move to a different house. Perkins did move to another house, but not with Belcher.

She left with Zoey and moved first into the home of Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, whose wife is Perkins's cousin, and then in with her family in North Texas. But the couple reconciled, and Perkins moved back in with Belcher last month. Belcher's mother had just moved to Kansas City from West Babylon to help care for Zoey and take some pressure off the couple. Briefly, by outward appearances anyway, the two were happy again.

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