The banner below currently hangs at the University of Maine's Alfond Stadium, proudly displaying the names and likenesses of some of UMaine's former players that made it to the NFL. A similar banner has been displayed for several years but according to a reader it was updated this year to remove the name and picture of perhaps the most famous Black Bear. Almost one year to the day after he shot and killed his girlfriend before driving to the Kansas City Chiefs' facility where he shot and killed himself in front of his coach and general manager, Jovan Belcher is no longer on the banner.
Along with the picture, our reader sent along the following note.
You'll notice the banner on the right - I've attached 2 versions of the banner - is titled: "Black Bears in the NFL." The last couple of years the banner featured a giant photo of Javon Belcher in his Kansas City Chiefs uniform. This year not only is his picture missing - but his name has been removed from the banner completely. As though he never played at the University of Maine, or in Kansas City at all.
Take a look at some of the other names still on the list. Like former Maine and Steelers lineman Justin Strzelczyk—who drove 15 miles of a 40-mile high speed chase on three wheels, flipping off and throwing beer bottles at state troopers along the way. The chase, which began because of a hit and run, ended when he sped into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with a tanker, killing him instantly.
Strzelczyk, 6 feet 6 inches and 300 pounds, was a monstrous presence on the Steelers' offensive line from 1990-98. He was known for his friendly, banjo-playing spirit and gluttony for combat. He spiraled downward after retirement, however, enduring a divorce and dabbling with steroid-like substances, and soon before his death complained of depression and hearing voices from what he called "the evil ones."
It was later determined Strzelczyk's showed signs of CTE.
Among the less-troubled on the banner are Stephen Cooper, Lofa Tatupu and Daren Stone. Cooper, a former San Diego Charger, was found holding 1,000 anabolic steroid pills during a traffic stop while at UMaine. He was later suspended four games by the NFL when he tested positive for ephedra. Both Lofa Tatupu and Daren Stone had their own minor scrapes with the law and were charged with DUIs.
It's understandable that Maine would try to avoid the reminder of what happened a year ago tomorrow; the Belcher incident, just like the Strzelcyk one, was ugly and tragic all the way around. But pretending like a traumatic event never happened is exactly how seemingly healthy and virile athletes become broken men.
Photo credit: Getty