Sunday, December 2, 2012

How to recognize in Workplace the Signs of Abuse in the Home

Jovan Belcher shot Kasandra Perkins, his girlfriend, in the house they shared in Kansas City. His mother and three-month-old daughter were in the house at the time. She was pronounced dead at the hospital. Belcher drove a short distance to Arrowhead Stadium, where he was employed as a linebacker for the NFL Chiefs for almost four full seasons.

Outside the practice facility at the stadium, he met Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli, Coach Romeo Crennel, and an assistant coach who tried to talk Belcher out of further violence. “'He had a conversation ...' (Police Capt. David) Lindaman said. 'There was no threat and it was quite friendly, from what I understand. The Chiefs organization had been very supportive of him, and he was expressing that.'”  (

After thanking his GM and coach, Belcher took a few steps away, pulled out a handgun, and shot himself in the head.

Chiefs owner Clark Hunt spoke to The Associated Press on the field before the Chiefs' game against the Carolina Panthers today. The Chiefs consulted with the league about whether to play the game as scheduled, but ultimately left it up to Crennel and the team captains to decide. The game is going on, but not without a great deal of pain and grief.

"'I spent the evening last night at the team hotel with them,' Hunt said. 'I wanted to be there with the team, with the coaches, to let them know I love them and support them and know what they're going through, and particularly the guys who were present in the parking lot when Jovan took his life. I know this has to be incredibly difficult.'"  (

The Chiefs had several counselors on hand at the hotel Saturday night. The NFL and the players' association have pledged their support to the team.

"'We have a lot of players who were struggling, people who had spent countless hours with Jovan over the last several years, the linebacking group in particular,' Hunt said. 'I know it's going to be difficult for them today. I told them all we can do in a situation like this is pull together as a family and support each other.'"

Part of crisis management is to monitor employees. Coworkers should be able to recognize the signs of depression, domestic violence, and substance abuse and then have a way to raise concerns up through the organization. But in the Belcher case, there apparently weren't any clues left for the Chiefs.

"'This wasn't forthcoming of his character,' said former college teammate Raibonne Charles, who played defensive line at the University of Maine. 'Jovan is a very passionate, very emotional person, and you could tell that by watching him play the game. But this is a shock to us all.'"  (

Ironically, Belcher majored in Childhood Development, participated in an anti-domestic initiative called Male Athletes Against Violence in college, and mentored a local child while at Maine.

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  "'He lived for his mom and his family, and vice versa,' (former Maine defensive-line coach Dwayne) Wilmot said. 'They were one of the closer groups I've ever come across. They warmed your heart. I get emotional thinking about it.'"

Belcher was said to be introverted in the locker room, didn't call attention to himself, was never a discipline problem, and never faced any known legal problems while with the Chiefs.

"'Jovan was a happy, proud father, with pictures of his baby on his Facebook page,' Belcher's agent, Joe Linta, told Sports Illustrated on Saturday. 'This is shocking. Something went crazy wrong, and we'll probably never know what it is. He came to my youth clinics in the offseason and worked with kids. He was a gracious, unselfish, hard-working, dedicated kid, very, very caring of some of the underprivileged kids who came to the clinics. I saw him in a real positive way....'

"'Jovan was one of those guys who was friendly to everybody,' Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn said. 'It wasn't like he closed himself off or wasn't cordial. He was there every day in the stretch line, and he was always talking to the quarterbacks, talking trash to us sometimes, joking with us back and forth. He was one of the guys who was a leader on the team.'"

Perhaps the only clue that something was wrong in Belcher's life was the way he and Perkins argued often, according to friends. One said the last argument started early Saturday after Perkins attended a Trey Songz concert with friends and didn't get home until 1 a.m. At one point, Belcher called her cell phone to ask when she would be home. The friend said the couple began arguing as soon as she arrived.

I question if any Chiefs teammates might have noticed a change in behavior and could have gotten some help for him. A man might not demonstrate any deviance from his personality on the job if he abuses someone at home. We might find out later or never if there was any physical violence between Belcher and Perkins during their four-year relationship before the shootings.

More likely, if there was prior physical or emotional abuse, Perkins' friends should have noticed something or reported to authorities any mention of abuse Perkins might have expressed. No, this is a different case. Here is a partial list of signs in the workplace of a woman in an abusive relationship. Help employees recognize the symptoms and know how to respond up the organizational chain. Supervisors and managers need similar education so any concerns don't end with them.

Safe Horizon in New York says to watch for:
  • Unexplained injuries or injuries that do not correlate with the explanation of how they occurred such as bruises, black eyes, broken bones and hearing loss, often attributed to falls, being clumsy, or accidents
  • Uncharacteristic absenteeism, tardiness or change in job performance, including poor concentration, errors, slowness, and inconsistent work quality
  • Uncharacteristic signs of anxiety and fear including emotional distress, tearfulness and depression
  • Sensitivity about home life or hints of trouble at home
  • An unusual number of phone calls, faxes or emails from a current or former partner, strong reactions to those calls, and reluctance to converse or respond to phone messages
  • Disruptive personal visits to the workplace by present or former partner

By being alert to possible personal problems among employees, you are in a position to prevent smoldering crises and maybe keep domestic violence from spilling over to the workplace, which happens too often. Estranged husbands and boyfriends may not know any more where their former significant others live. But they probably know where they work and between what hours they can find them there.

If you had worked or been friends with Perkins, recognizing the signs and taking action might have prevented a tragedy in Kansas City.

 P.S. The Chiefs won just their second game of the season today, 27-21.

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