Jovan Belcher, Adam Lanza and the “Manhood Crisis” at the Heart of Recent Tragedies: The Jackson Katz interview, part II

Part II of my interview with activist/scholar Jackson Katz. Part I can be read here. – CA


Kassandra Perkins with their three-month-old daughter Zoey (left) and Jovon Belcher (right)

Elite Daily photo

The Starting Five is a website that provides sports fans with an alternative to the popular Internet social and sports readings of the day.

I wanted to ask you about the tragic deaths of Kansas City Chiefs football player Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins earlier this month. What was your reaction when you heard about the murder-suicide?

Of course I was sad to hear about yet another domestic violence tragedy. They happen all the time, though most of the time it’s just a local story, people hear about it, shrug their shoulders, and move on to the next news event. But I thought there was something about this one that made it stand out, even beyond the obvious fact that it involved a high-profile professional athlete. No one could pretend it was just a “private matter,” since Belcher killed himself in front of his coach and general manager, which means it spilled over directly into the workplace. It must have been — still must be — very traumatic for the individuals involved, not to mention for a whole lot of other people who knew the couple, his teammates, Chiefs fans, etc. Because it was just so tragic, including the orphaning of a three-month old, I thought it might spark an increased commitment from the League to address the issue of men’s violence against women more proactively than in the past.

What work have you done with the National Football League to prevent violence off the field?

My colleagues and I at the Mentors in Violence Prevention program have worked in various capacities with the NFL for 13 years. We’ve worked with the New England Patriots for all that time, and we’ve done trainings for about a quarter of NFL teams. In the area of domestic and sexual violence prevention, I think it’s fair to say that we have more experience than anyone in terms of working with pro football players, coaches, and front office staff.

The Belcher-Perkins murder-suicide was a big cultural moment, especially when you consider the immense national and international spotlight on the NFL and its players. It forced discussions about domestic violence – once again — into the wide world of sports discourse. But much of the commentary steered clear of talking about the gender factors at the root of most domestic violence. Instead, you heard a lot of talk about the possibility that Belcher had a brain injury from concussions, or some mental illness people weren’t aware of. Those topics deserve some investigation, but let’s get real. There are hundreds of murder-suicides every year in the United States, and the majority of them are men killing their girlfriends or wives and then killing themselves.

The question should be about why so many men do this, not why one NFL football player did it and what that might teach us about football. What does it teach us about how men are socialized and how that affects their ability to maintain (or not) healthy relationships? What role does the ideology of power and control as linked to manhood play in domestic violence – for average men on the factory floor and in office parks, not just in the rarified world of professional football?

So much of the discussion we should be having about these sorts of questions gets diverted to discussions about important but secondary factors. Take guns. The day after the murder-suicide Bob Costas read an excerpt from a column by Jason Whitlock on Sunday Night Football. Whitlock talked about guns and speculated about whether this would have happened if Belcher in his rage didn’t have easy access to a gun. Then Costas became the epicenter of a big debate about guns. I’m glad Costas raised the issue, but subsequently you had all these people complaining that he politicized a football game in an inappropriate way. Rush Limbaugh and other right-wingers attacked him. Limbaugh actually said something like “If he (Belcher) didn’t have a gun, he would’ve killed her with knives, he would have strangled her,” when we know from decades of research and experience in the field of domestic violence that the presence of guns in the home is a major factor for domestic violence lethality.

Romeo Crennel

Chiefs Head Coach Romeo Crennel wipes a tear away during a moment of silence vs. Carolina Panthers. (Colin E. Braley/AP)

How should the NFL approach the incident? What would be an appropriate action to take?

At a minimum, there should be much more education and training for NFL players, coaches and front office staff on the issues of domestic and sexual violence prevention. There’s very little right now. Part of the reason has to do with the collective bargaining agreement between the players union and the league. There are certain restrictions the League has on mandated training. I think individual teams have more latitude.

So there are two different questions here: “What can the NFL do?” and “What can individual teams do?” The players union and NFL management have to come up with a better plan about what’s expected of all players, coaches and front office staff. For the teams it’s really a practical and strategic business decision. What is the appropriate level of training we should expect of our employees in this area? How can we prevent future tragedies? A key component of the business decision is a question about community relations and responsibility. NFL teams play a prominent role in their communities. How can they leverage that in a positive way to effect change on this persistent social problem? People pay attention to how NFL teams handle these sorts of matters. In part, that’s why we’re having this conversation.

Some people will say that it’s somewhat of a contradiction to be teaching nonviolence to football players, who are paid to play a violent sport.

I think it’s important that people know something about what we do in programs like the one I co-founded, Mentors in Violence Prevention. MVP is the first program in the domestic and sexual violence field to utilize the “bystander approach” to prevention. Our focus is not directly on men who are abusive.  We don’t point our fingers at men and warn them to behave themselves. We focus on the responsibility of teammates, friends, colleagues, co-workers, and others to help create a peer culture climate where abusive behavior along a continuum is unacceptable, not only because it’s illegal, but because the peer culture doesn’t accept it.

We discuss everything from guys making sexist and degrading comments about women to incidents of physical and sexual violence. We get practical and concrete: what can guys do if their teammate says or does something that degrades women? We compare that to racism: if you’re white and your teammate says something racist, what is your responsibility to say or do in response? What you do if a guy you know physically or emotionally abuses his girlfriend or wife? In the case of domestic violence, which usually takes place behind closed doors, how would you even know? What are some of the warning signs? What can you do – safely and supportively — to confront the abusive behavior, or interrupt it before it gets worse?

I can tell you this. When you get men in a room and open up some space for dialogue about this stuff, a lot of guys have a lot to say, as well as a lot to learn. We all do. This is not dry Power Point stuff. We talk about real life, including the struggles that many guys go through and have gone through. For example, a lot of players in the NFL come from families where there was domestic violence. They have mothers who are survivors. Some of their wives and girlfriends have gone through it. Some of these men feel passionately about not wanting to continue the cycle.

I think it’s in the self-interest of NFL teams to address these issues head-on, if you’ll forgive the unfortunate pun. If NFL teams had these kinds of programs for their employees more guys would be in a position to understand when something isn’t quite right with one of their teammates or fellow coaches. I’m not saying all incidents are preventable. But in domestic violence lethality reviews, it comes up frequently that points of intervention are frequently missed along the way by people around the perpetrator, as well as people around the victim. You can interrupt the process early on, but you’re not going to if you don’t at least talk about this stuff.

Let’s shift gears for a moment to the Newtown tragedy.  In your mind, what are effective strategies for teaching boys about not “equaling the score,” or “not getting revenge?” What alternatives would you suggest?

This is really hard, because in a sense it is quite possible that Adam Lanza achieved his goal. He planned and carried out a horrific act that made a very strong statement. And from early reports, he took his own life, which means that he was in control right up to the end. If you look at quotes or written statements left behind by past rampage killers, many of them understand their homicidal outbursts – whether based directly in revenge fantasies or not — as assertive displays of manhood and power.

So when you look at Adam Lanza, whom people described as shy, introverted, or may have had Asperger’s Syndrome, all this stuff was happening beneath the surface that people didn’t know about. You can say he was a pathetic, troubled young man who led a disastrous life. But in the end his life was recognized and noticed, and his power was affirmed. I think it’s important for us to make it much, much harder for individuals like him to gain access to firearms, especially semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines. And of course the entire mental health system needs to be reassessed – though that would involve a significant shift in social priorities.

I know it’s an uphill fight, but one approach we need to adopt on a broad societal level is to teach boys and men that acknowledging their vulnerability – and getting help — is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength. Right now that message is still somewhat countercultural for boys and men.

People are asking President Barack Obama to take action after this tragic event. What does he need to do?

He needs to start taking more risks as a leader, first by standing up to the gun lobby and speaking out and advocating for much stronger gun regulations. He’s starting to do that now. Tens of millions of people are counting on him to do this. It’s not going to miraculously end gun violence in America, but there are steps in the right direction: a renewed assault weapons ban, a ban on high capacity magazines, closing the gun show loophole, and so on. Obama was elected in November with a strong majority of the vote. I think if he takes these kinds of stands – especially in the wake of Newtown, a lot of people will support him. There are even members of the NRA who will support him.

But on a cultural level, I would love to see the president initiate a national conversation on manhood and violence. Use his unparalleled platform to catalyze a conversation among men from every ethnic, racial and socioeconomic group about how we need to redefine manhood in this society in more life-affirming and nonviolent ways. We need more men speaking out — not only after horrific school shootings.

So The Starting Five website is from Philadelphia. Has MVP done any work with any Philadelphia sports teams?

Some years back we did some productive work with the Phillies. But there is so much more we could be doing with professional sports teams and leagues. I’m most interested in the leadership platform athletes and coaches have in male culture, and how pro sports teams can use their prominence and influence to set an example for how to address the issue of preventing men’s violence against women. For example, imagine what a powerful message pro football teams could send to athletic directors and high school football coaches if they put some of their resources — and the power and credibility of their brand – behind efforts to implement gender violence prevention programming? My MVP colleagues and I have been doing some of that in Vancouver, Canada, with the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League. The early results look very promising.

The most important work has to be institutionalized and systematic, rather than episodic responses to occasional incidents. Sadly, I think we’re still in a place as a society where schools, businesses, and pro sports teams address these issues reactively rather than proactively. One can only hope that after the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide, and the unspeakable tragedy at Newtown, we can begin to change that.

Thank you very much Jackson!

This interview is dedicated to the Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Kansas City Chiefs football team.


Telegraph U.K. photo

15 Responses to “Jovan Belcher, Adam Lanza and the “Manhood Crisis” at the Heart of Recent Tragedies: The Jackson Katz interview, part II”

  1. Temple3 says:

    Brilliant work here. Great concepts with hard work and real examples. Very thoughtful stuff.

  2. mapoui says:

    the issue is not one of gender and race but of class…the domination of society by an class with a monopoly on violence to enforce if necessary their class domination

    it is critical at this stage that the american people are not disarmed, that they retain their guns, pre-empting government monopoly on violence.

    in effort to erect a police state no stone will be left unturned, no act too heinous that may lead to success for the elites

    class is complicated by race to an extreme degree in USA reality so much so that at times it is impossible to separate their points of divergence. but american capitalism has ripened to the point of failure, no more expansion is possible and the system is falling back on itself, unable to meet the needs of the people for employment and a chance at decent lives.

    the options available to the state is draconian control, population reduction, police state. to accomplish that the people must be disarmed.

    this is what we hear all the time but no less true for repetition and simplicity. it is the truth. anything less does not serve the people interests..all of them, black white brown. their only qualification is to be ordinary, working for a living etc.

    here is a particularly brilliant piece of propaganda by Ishmael Reed an Obama lackey… placing the guns issue in race terms. Reeds goal is disarmament and he surely will convince a lot with this piece.

    but disarmament is not in the interest of ordinary americans..or any ordinary people of most nations in the world at this time.

    the real, basic interest of ordinary people the world over is social change from the ground up.

    our juncture reveals total economic failure of the way global economics have gone for too long now.. and that with our current technological level the options are 2..a people take over of society in their various nations and putting the technological level to work for all, transforming social life from the bottom up.

    the other option which we can easily see at work, roiling, seeking to cut the world into shape for its control.. is domination of the current elite, working out a way..any way they can… maintain their social control in perpetuity.

    that means police states and some form or draconian globalisation soon enough…ultimately some horrific example of Brave New World.

    that is what underpins it all..that is what global society is currently faced with..americans in its american manifestation replete with mass murders, racism, partial focus and debates etc.

    but middle class americans..especially those still in with a little chance don’t want to hear anything like I just said.

    as such americans are not unlike west indians of the same class levels..or any such other people still ‘comfortable’ despite the expanding generalised mayhem in the world.

    long may your comfort last but don’t wait too long to act, to bell the system finally, to vote with action for democracy from the ground up. time may pass-you-by and that would be disastrous for humanity on the whole

  3. MICHELLE says:

    Good conversation here. The gun laws have to change. If it’s not already too late to correct the problem. Also easy access to mental health help is horrible in this country. The lack of self respecting and affordable facilities to house the mentally ill is also an issue.

  4. mapoui says:

    look..Obama may take away all the guns by executive order.

    and if he succeeds americans will quickly understand what the problem was/is…but too late.

    the solution to all the problems can be conceived of, developed and applied in a democracy for the people, by the people..not in any social organisation like the current one.

    that is what must change for there to develop general health facilities for all the people..mental health and otherwise

    if virulent american capitalism could solved social problems they would have been solved already, not worsening, festering as we speak.

    mental health..access to mental health… why is that a problem at all…?

    with all due respect Michelle you sound hopeless, helpless, forlorn and if you are unaware of american reality although an american I am sure you are.

    if and when a society functions in the interest of all its people..the guns are put away voluntarily. the people must create such a society by blood and sweat, ending exploitation and social division on race, class etc.

    it wont come easy, cost free. there is no vaccum..if on way does not exist t

  5. mapoui says:

    it wont come easy, cost free. there is no vacuum..if one way does not exist another option will.

    the old way is done. a new positive way will be created by the people in revolutionary action… or a new horrific way will be created by the elites successful in beating down the people.

  6. mapoui says:

    if Obama disarms the american people and establishes a police state, it would resolve the race issues at least theoretically ion the minds of the people


    it is not possible for the economic current situation of capitalism to be resolved in ways that would return the recently old prosperity..or for the technological base achieved by humanity to be put to use by capitalism that would result in anything but high, and ever increasing unemployment.

    ordinary folk are now redundant to, in the system. full employment can only be restored if the purpose of society changes from economic activity for profit… to economic activity based on meeting general social need and full social expansion..
    inclusive of all.

    population reduction is essential for the elites if they are to maintain themselves. they are attempting no other solution to the problems society now faces. locking society down is their aim. and that cannot be accomplished save disarming the american population is accomplished.

    that I see is the purpose behind all the massacres of children, cinema shootings etc..setting up a justification for disarming the american population.

    the people are mixed up and confused by all manner of debate on the issues, on the massacres. that will all be quickly cleared up if Obama gets his disarmament. the people will be herded..all the people, regardless of skin colour.

    when rednecks and tea party people, extreme and liberals, left and right ordinary people find themselves all locked down together then they will know. all will be very, very clear

  7. CAvard says:

    *** with all due respect Michelle you sound hopeless, helpless, forlorn and if you are unaware of american reality although an american I am sure you are. ***

    Mapoui, it’s all right to disagree but let’s also be kind to one another. If you wouldn’t say that to someone in person, don’t say it online.

    That being said, can you suggest something positive that ordinary people can do to prevent gun violence?

  8. mapoui says:

    the more you actually know about the causation of the violence the more you are fitted to devise a response specific to your local conditions..

    your movement ought to be sociological…which means simply you must approach developing understanding inclusive of all angles..economic, political, historical…

    the broader you are the more specific and local you can be, guided and disciplined by your own social/class interest.

    as an ordinary person you can do no better for yourself than to know and be absolutely loyal to your class interest.

    there is no middle ground. if you are not aware of and functioning in your own class interest, then you are co-opted and acting in the interest of others – the elites.

    I meant no disrespect to Michelle. that’s nothing..what I said that you quoted..not abusive in any way..a simple statement.

    I say, very directly, openly, much more comprehensive assessments of the day, where many people can hear, directly to whom I may be speaking with and to. ..that I write elsewhere.

    Everything I say is like that.

    I am not afraid! I never was! no big deal. that’s the way I am.

    what’s there to be afraid of anyway. humanity is killing itself as we speak. is there a mouth full of food you can eat anywhere that is not poisoned, fraught with danger to your physical self?

    almost no one is exempt from such danger now, save for the rich who can produce and order their food organic.

    and the poisoned food has been done deliberately, by the food corporations for whatever purpose they have in mind. and what else can that be but depopulation?

    yet I once thought for that reason, certain people were exempt…until one day at my supermarket which is in a heavily Jewish area of the town and country in which I live. I thought to examine the food sold in the kosher section.

    I found that Kosher foods, by the lables is just as bad as the food in all other sections of the supermarket

    human suicide is an aspect, a potential of the stage we have arrived at socially. it may be that we cannot save ourselves at all at this point..that we have passed a tipping point.

    when you look at commentators of the quality of Reed whose link I posted, immersed in deep and loyal support of a figure of of End Times like Obama, working to disarm the american people in support of the establishment of a police state, one senses its too late.

    I figure that you CAvard and Michelle may think talk like this is crazy. but I actually see things as far worse than I have tried to convey so far.

    there is nothing to be afraid of. all human marbles are on the table of time..or at this time. its actually touch and go as we speak, no more fooling around room.

    some say as long as there is life there is chance, opportunity. may those who so believe be right. we need them to be

  9. mapoui says:

    and whatever response is made it must be legal, positive, better for ALL…pointing to the future, to the way you believe things ought to be.

    in your movement there must be a picture of a better way and how we can get there.

    do not pick up a gun and go shoot yourself..for any reason at all save self defence. that is why you have guns..for self defence and protection from the state.

    illegality is out of the picture. if the people move, collectively, en masse’ and throw out the government, arrest the elites and throw them in jail. try them and execute them then that is legal.

    that which is fundamentally collective is legal..the people in revolutionary movement is legal in whatever they do. once it holds it must be recognized internationally as the new, established way.

    the collective is so legal and positive. there is general agreement in the movement. it is like an immediate election, decided on and effected immediately by the people..

    there is no such legality by an individual who takes it upon themselves to go outside the law.

    an individual can from a like-minded group with a program. join up the politics and try to get the program across electorally..or arm themselves and take to the hills and forests and start guerilla activities

    they would be illegal and subject to the law if caught..summarily executed in war with the state if defeated. to the extent they survive may mean the extent to which they find support among the people who would assist them in their struggle.

    if their struggle is just and the conditions right they may even prevail, winning the national power by armed struggle with the support of the people.

    but what is critical is to know the truth, make that truth general for it is that upon which the justified democratic , peaceful and prosperous state can best be built. the people must be transformed into citizens, civilized.

    and the best citizen is the fully informed and developed human being, judged by the stage of the day..the best that is possible on any day we are still here, in existence.

    so in the struggle, in the crisis one develops oneself as fully as possible, transforms oneself into the citizen as he/she should be and with clear sight moves for democracy, human survival and development.

    one can come to see that in human development, in the person of the developed human being walks all that we are, the real human constitution that is flexible, malleable, developmental and responsive to life as it evolves under human movement in nature..not in pieces of paper that are dated almost as soon as they are off the press.

    all that we are, all our potential, future chances in existence comes to be represented in the developed human being. so simple as seeking answer to a current problem like this issue of violence, a motivated individual can transform themselves all the way to a fully developed and civilized human being, whose very existence is a threat to the established way and who in their person represents the future, the way things can be..indeed must be if we are to live on in nature

    current human development compared to the potential of what we can be right now is a travesty. and basic of the way forward is to come to know truth to the extent that we have proven..development of ones intellect to deal successfully with current response to challenge to ones survival..from the small to the total, global reality

  10. Temple3 says:

    The biggest threat to this government and the corporations that drive its policy is the person who has no debt and consumes nothing more than they use. The person without desire for or attachment to the products is the one that threatens the entire balance.

  11. What Temple3 said all life…

    mapoui you are most definitely my man but Michelle is TSF family — as you are most definitely. She is untouchable sir. Happy Holidays. 🙂

  12. CAvard says:

    Mapoui I accept your point. It’s a macro and a micro problem. I’m just looking at this in a micro perspective.

    I don’t think there’s one reason that explains the complexities of Newtown, Conn. and other mass shootings. I believe gender and masculinity are critical factors that need to be examined. When a majority of mass shootings, homicidal violence, domestic violence, sexual violence and sexual abuse are committed by men against other men and women that’s a serious concern. It plays a part in all this. It’s just as valid as your POV.

    Why do men misuse and abuse power and control? Why do men feel like they have to “get even” or “get revenge” over wrongs that were done to him? Why do men have to put down or hurt others in order to elevate themselves? Why do men feel like they have to plan out this “media spectacle” in order to feel a false sense of power or maniacal self-worth? I think these are valid observations that need to be examined.

    If my interview with Katz can stop a man from picking up a gun, raising a hand, or taking advantage of someone, then I’ve made a small difference. If my interview or Katz’s advocacy can get boys and men to understand they don’t have to choose violence, then we’ve made a difference. Or if it helped men to compassionately confront other men to speak up and say, “Let’s stop the violence against men and other women” or “there are more constructive ways to channel our anger without the need to get back at someone” then I think I’ve made an impact, albeit small.

    We’re just trying to look at it at a positive and helpful and meaningful perspective. I think you’re trying to do the same mapoui.

  13. mapoui says:

    “”The biggest threat to this government and the corporations that drive its policy is the person who has no debt and consumes nothing more than they use. The person without desire for or attachment to the products is the one that threatens the entire balance.””

    the developing citizen is not a consumer.

    about the first step in the process of development is realisation that consumption is not the point of existence but positive answering of the question: how does humanity survive indefinitely in an evolutionary universe?

    let me apologise to Michelle: I meant no harm but to imply that you seemed somewhat fragile in america…and in a world that is quite horrific and getting worse…wont get better any time soon.

    I don’t expect americans to even hint being like that..that’s all.


  14. mapoui says:

    “”We’re just trying to look at it at a positive and helpful and meaningful perspective. I think you’re trying to do the same mapoui.”

    you are right CAvard. nothing you and Katz have done here harms..helps in fact.

    I would go further that’s all

    again I meant no harm to Michelle. I was correcting an impression that I would not speak my mind were I thought it was necessary to…not that I have insulted Michelle to her face.

    perhaps I should have just let that go…said nothing.

    happy holidays

  15. CAvard says:

    Don’t worry Mapoui. We’re all cool. Thanks for checking in and happy holidays to you too.