FOX Sports Exclusive
Panthers-Chiefs still on for Sunday
The Chiefs released a statement Saturday afternoon stating that “after discussions between the league office, head coach Romeo Crennel and Chiefs team captains, the Chiefs advised the NFL that it will play.”
FOXSports.com NFL Insider Jay Glazer first reported that the league had “full plans” of staging the game at 1 p.m. ET Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. The Charlotte Observer reported that the Panthers were told by the NFL to maintain their Saturday afternoon travel plans for the matchup.
One possibility would have been shifting kickoff until Monday night to give Chiefs players and coaches more time to grieve. However, the NFL is reticent to change preset schedules because of the logistics involved in doing so from both a travel and organizational standpoint with stadium and game personnel.
Kansas City police said that Belcher, a four-year Chiefs player, killed his girlfriend early Saturday morning and then headed to Arrowhead Stadium. Belcher, 25, shot himself in the head shortly thereafter in front of several members of the Chiefs organization that included Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli, police said.
An NFL spokesman told FOXSports.com that two top league executives -- Robert Gulliver (human resources) and Troy Vincent (player engagement) – are mobilizing a crisis management team to help Chiefs employees cope with the situation.
“The entire Chiefs family is deeply saddened by today’s events,” Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said in a team-released statement. “Our collective hearts are heavy with sympathy, thoughts and prayers for the families and friends affected by this unthinkable tragedy. We sincerely appreciate the expressions of sympathy and support we have received from so many in the Kansas City and NFL communities and ask for continued prayers for the loved ones of those impacted.
“We will continue to fully cooperate with the authorities and work to ensure that the appropriate counseling resources are available to all members of the organization.”
The NFL issued a statement reading, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Chiefs and the families and friends of those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy. We have connected the Chiefs with our national team of professional counselors to support both the team and the families of those affected. We will continue to provide assistance in any way that we can.”
The NFL Players Association has also reached out to the Chiefs.
“We have been in touch with players,” NFLPA executive George Atallah wrote on his Twitter account. “At a time like this, we can only come together as a family and as a community.”
Kansas City police said that Belcher, a four-year Chiefs player, killed his girlfriend and then headed to Arrowhead Stadium. Belcher, 25, later shot himself in the head in front of several members of the Chiefs organization that included general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel, police said.
The league has a mixed history when it comes to game rescheduling following national tragedies. The NFL played in the immediate aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, which remains a controversial decision to this day. All games were postponed for one week following the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001. The NFL extended the regular season by one week to play the Week 2 slate of games in early January.
In-season deaths of active players are rare. The last one to die during a game was Detroit Lions punter Chuck Hughes in 1971. Hughes went into cardiac arrest late in the fourth quarter of a Lions-Chicago Bears matchup and was taken off the field on a stretcher. Without knowing Hughes’ medical condition, Detroit and Chicago finished the game. No future contests were cancelled.
Recent in-season player deaths include Chicago defensive end Gaines Adams (2010), Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Henry (2009) and Washington safety Sean Taylor (2007). All of their respective teams played their next game as scheduled.
The Panthers dealt with an in-season domestic tragedy in 1999 when police filed three murder-related charges against wide receiver Rae Carruth after his pregnant girlfriend was fatally wounded in an act involving multiple accomplices. Carruth is still serving time in prison; the baby survived.
A slew of NFL players and franchises made statements through Twitter expressing their condolences. Chiefs defensive end Tamba Hali (@TambaHali91) and tight end Tony Moeaki (@TonyMoeaki81) both wrote they were “devastated” by what happened.
“One of everyone's favorite teammates including one of mine,” Moeaki wrote. “Great great great teammate. We will miss him forever.”