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Belcher tragedy: Is football worth it?

FILE - In this Dec. 19 2010 file phoKansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher (59) walks off field during third

FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2010, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher (59) walks off the field during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams in St. Louis. Police say Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend early Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, in Kansas City, Mo., then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and committed suicide in front of his coach and general manager. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

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Updated: December 1, 2012 12:56PM

There are times when I wonder why anyone in his right mind would want to be an NFL player. There’s the money and fame, of course, but there are so many dangers lurking below the surface of a football helmet. And so much unhappiness.

Maybe the answer is that, for some of the people who risk their health and future on a brutal game, they aren’t in their right mind. They can’t possibly be. How much of that is football-induced, I don’t know. But when are we going to reach the point when we seriously ask ourselves whether the game of football is worth it? Not as an academic question but in a practical way of asking how many lives we’re willing to sacrifice to a game.

Insanity is the only explanation I have right now for the tragedy that occurred in Kansas City, Mo., on Saturday morning. Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher allegedly killed his girlfriend, went to the team’s practice facility near Arrowhead Stadium and shot himself to death in front of general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel. There’s not enough information out yet, but nothing else fits beyond mental illness or brain injury or some combination of the two.

How Pioli and Crennel will be able to go on with their lives in football is beyond me, especially if they hold any suspicion Belcher killed himself because of brain trauma caused by repeated hits to the head. Wouldn’t you see yourself as an accessory to a crime, as part of the broader problem of head injuries, even in the most distant way, if you were either man?

We glorify these players, we hold them up, we envy their lives. Read the gossip columnists and see which trendy restaurant the star quarterback ate at last night. But do you really want his life? When you see Bears quarterback Jay Cutler get smashed in the head and miss a game with a concussion, do you want to be him? Do you want to be him in 20 years? Do you want to be former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, who, at 53, has early stage dementia?

We’re witnessing a slaughter, folks. Football players are meat. They are ground up and spit out. And we, the viewing public, are aiding and abetting, in a way. We can’t get enough of the big hits.

It could be that Belcher suffered from a mental illness that had nothing to do with brain trauma. I say that every time a player or former player kills himself, and then we find out there was brain damage. But we’ve seen this before. And we’ll see it again.

What a sad, sad story. I feel sorry for all involved. But when are we going to wake up? I know one thing for sure: Jovan Belcher won’t.

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