Murder-suicide leads to concerns for athletes' mental state

Jacksonville sports internist says athletes' emotions need to be taken seriously

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The recent murder-suicide involving Kansas City Chiefs football linebacker Jovan Belcher has left everyone, sports fan or not, absolutely shocked.

Police said he killed his girlfriend at their home, then shot himself at the Chiefs stadium a few miles up the road.

They leave behind a 3-month-old daughter.

Channel 4 spoke with a Jacksonville sports internist about the importance of the emotional stability of professional athletes and what can be done to prevent these tragedies.

Dr. Joe Czerkawski does a lot of concussion management and injury prevention but does said he does not do much with patients on the stability of athlete's emotions. He said this is something that the NFL and other professional leagues need to make more of a priority.

"I'm surprised that it doesn't happen more often," Czerkawski said. "The pressure and stress as a public professional athlete is tremendous."

Saturday's murder-suicide has left the nation saddened and stunned. Czerkawski says money could be one of the contributing factors of professional athlete's instability.

"The money is escalating as you know," Czerkawski said. "Players and owners want more and more. The pressure is on the coaches to have the players perform and win."

Many wonder what can be done to prevent cases like this. Czerkawski said an athlete's emotional stability needs to be monitored as closely as they are for head injuries.

He says preventing emotional tragedy is just as important as preventing physical tragedy.

"I think much more up front counseling intervention needs to be done before they even start on the team," Czerkawski said. "When they're drafted. I think we need to look back into their emotional history."

Czerkawski said issues such as stress, depression, ADHD and Asperger Syndrome are common among many of the young 18- and 19-year-old players and that is an issue that needs to be looked at before, not after, they begin their professional career.

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