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Former GM Scott Pioli talks about his time with the Chiefs in commencement address

Pioli spoke to the 2019 class of his alma mater on Saturday

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

When I’m not writing or editing articles that grace these pages, I’m an audio engineer. In 40-some years in that business — along with the ones I’ve heard as a friend or relative attending a ceremony — I’ve heard well over 100 commencement addresses. Some of them are brilliant and inspiring. Some of them are thought-provoking. Some are hilarious.

But I’ve never heard one where the speaker told about the time they witnessed a suicide.

Such was the case at Central Connecticut State University on Saturday, when 1988 CCSU graduate (and former Kansas City Chiefs general manager) Scott Pioli delivered the commencement address to 2019’s graduating class.

Two days earlier, Pioli had stepped down as assistant general manager of the Atlanta Falcons — a position he had taken a year after being fired in Kansas City.

Pioli’s speech gave a frank account of the events of December 1, 2012 — the day that Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, drove to the team’s practice facility and killed himself in the parking lot in front of Pioli, head coach Romeo Crennel and linebackers coach Gary Gibbs.

Pioli told the story of that day — and his time with the Chiefs — to support one of the three pieces of advice he wanted to impart to the new CCSU graduates: Be resilient.

“I know this sounds cliche,” said Pioli. “You’re going to hear it. You’ve probably heard it. Failure is coming one day. You just don’t know when — and you’ll never be prepared. Sometimes it will be [a] small failure. Sometimes it will be epic.

”Several years ago, I experienced epic failure. I started out and things went well. I became a lead partner with my good friend Bill Belichick up in New England. We were able to create this really cool dynasty.

“At some point in time, we all get the opportunity to ‘ride the wave.’ A couple of years later, I took another job to be general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs.

”At the time, the Chiefs were one of the worst franchises in the NFL. After being there for two years, the group of people I worked with — and myself — brought the team to a division championship. And we were on our way.

”Two years later, I was fired. We failed epically. And I was leading the ship. We failed on the field. We failed off the field. We ended up having the worst record in all of football that year.

”Compounding that — making matters even worse — during my last month with the Kansas City Chiefs, a player that I loved dearly (that I thought I knew very well) murdered his girlfriend one Saturday morning before a game. He came to the office after murdering her; he came to the office to speak to me. I talked to him in the parking lot. Minutes later, I watched him shoot himself in the head.”

Then Pioli paused for a full eight seconds.

”A month later, I was fired,” he continued. “I earned that firing — just like I had earned the success I had before.

”My point in telling that story is not for sympathy. I remember after that happened — because I was the person in the parking lot [who was] with him and trying to talk him out of it — people were trying to victimize me in the sense that they felt so sorry for me. It was horrible — a horrible tragedy.”

”But in that moment — and even today — it was a tragic thing that I watched happen in front of me. But I wasn’t a victim. The victims were the parents of the young lady that was murdered. The victims were his parents. The victim was a small child that was left alone in this world without any parents. I saw something horrible, but I wasn’t a victim. I was not going to allow myself to be victimized.

”It was in that moment that I learned about real resiliency. And it was at that moment — when I was fired — that I had to figure things out. I looked to the people that I loved and the people who loved me and looked to me. And they helped me.

”We’re all going to have tragedies in our life. We’re all going to have failures. Some of them will be small failures. Some of them will be epic failures. I encourage you: when that happens, be still. Listen, pray and move forward.”

You can watch the full speech on YouTube by clicking here.

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