A Game, a Parade, a Shooting: The Story of America in Three Acts


America’s most communal cultural event, the Super Bowl, featured a wildly popular team from Kansas City cheered by a global pop star who is dating the tight end. After the Chiefs won, she kissed her boyfriend under the falling confetti.

Three days later, the city held a massive parade and celebration where gunfire broke out, scattering panicked fans in football jerseys, killing a woman and hurting 22 others, about half of them kids.

Super Bowl. Parade. Shooting.

Is there a more American story than that?

The shooting was not directly related to football, in the way that a shooting at a mall is not related to shopping. But every such shooting feels like a crime against American culture. Settings have included schools, colleges, movie theaters, churches and synagogues, grocery stores, concerts. There is now a subset of mass shootings occurring at parades.

No parcel of American public life feels completely safe. No shooting feels like a surprise, except to the people who live through it.

This one was a coda to the global sporting event where we celebrate all things American — from football to Usher, military flyovers to the Puppy Bowl. What if a shooting happened at a massive hometown celebration of the champions, in a crowd of people wearing team gear? It felt like an unoriginal plot device. But deadly shootings happen so regularly in the United States that only the wildest circumstances bring attention.

Chiefs players were nearby. Some were rushed away. One, offensive lineman Trey Smith, described being squeezed into a closet, hiding while trying to calm a little boy. It was luck that the death toll was not higher.

“One of the cultural problems is that we are losing the ability to be in community with one another,” said Jason Kander, a fifth-generation Kansas City resident, a Democratic former Missouri secretary of state and an advocate for tighter gun laws. “And when we cannot safely gather and celebrate, it’s only going to exacerbate the problem.”

That is the concern of Frank White, a Democrat and the elected county executive of Jackson County (which includes Kansas City) who played 18 seasons with baseball’s Kansas City Royals. He rode in the parade and was onstage outside Union Station for the celebration, along with his wife, two grown granddaughters and several others.

They were ushered inside and got separated in the chaos. Panicked people rushed the doors. People hid for about 30 minutes, quietly and with phones silenced, the way American children are now taught in schools.

“You always want to put on the best show for your city, at a time when a lot of people have eyes on you,” White said. “And you take pride in your city not being part of a mass shooting like this. So it was discouraging. It’s about showcasing your city and your civic pride, but at the same time, you’re frustrated because gun violence around the nation is just out of control.”

Wednesday was Valentine’s Day, the sixth anniversary of the shooting that killed 17 at a Parkland, Fla., high school. It was also the 45th day of 2024, and by that night, there had been 49 mass shootings in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive. (The archive defines them as shootings in which at least four people are killed or hurt, not including the shooter.)

The Kansas City shooting raised familiar questions about the intersection of American sports and culture. Are sports events, and the parades that celebrate them, a place to forget the real world, or experience it?

Bob Kendrick is the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo. His 12-year-old granddaughter and some of the museum’s employees attended the parade.

He knows more than most that sports always have been a prism for issues of race, gender, fairness, economics, violence. When discussing the shooting, Kendrick invoked Buck O’Neil talking about Jackie Robinson’s becoming the first Black player in baseball’s major leagues. It was a sports moment, but also far more than that. People came to games just to boo Robinson, O’Neil would say. They weren’t baseball fans. The country had — has — issues to confront, always.

“There are few things in our society that galvanize as much as sport,” Kendrick said. “Maybe music. And, of course, baseball was at the forefront of that galvanization.”

Football may be at the forefront today. And when it binds people together, in Kansas City and around the world, it feels like Sunday’s Super Bowl, or like Wednesday’s parade, before the shooting began.

“And now it raises the issue of gun laws again, particularly in this state, and systematic issues that every city has to deal with,” Kendrick said. “It just makes you think about things that you should think about, anyway, but you don’t necessarily want to think about, particularly in that moment.”

Joe Posnanski, an author of best-selling sports books, spent 15 years as a columnist for the Kansas City Star. He knows the dueling perspectives that are thrust upon sports. Some want the games to be an escape from life’s hard realities, devoid of politics and off-field acrimony. Others see sports as a reflection of what the country is going through.

“The reality is we could try to stay in the world of sports and try to have them be a sort of beacon that can bring us together,” Posnanski said. “But, inevitably, something happens and that wall comes crashing down. There’s no way to protect that feeling from the outside world. That’s the reality of where we are.”

The Super Bowl is the ultimate American distraction from the outside world. An estimated 123 million people in the United States watched, whether to root for a team, to see the commercials or to spot Taylor Swift, the global music icon and girlfriend of Travis Kelce, Kansas City’s star tight end.

Victory parades are a distraction planted in the outside world, with their sprawling, unsecured crowds. In Denver last June, two people were shot near the end of the championship parade for the N.B.A.’s Nuggets. Days earlier, when the Nuggets won the title, a shooting near the team’s arena injured at least 10.

Wednesday in Kansas City was a day of warm sunshine. Police estimated that a million people came to cheer the Chiefs, most of them in team colors. Schools had been canceled for the occasion — a “red snow day.” Fans hung from trees and light poles. About 850 police officers were sprinkled around downtown.

The Kansas City Star called it “the biggest celebration in Kansas City’s history.”

There were speeches, music, cheering. The Chiefs left the stage. Team buses were parked behind Union Station.

Then came another familiar American ritual: frightened people running from a danger they can’t pinpoint.

“All of us start to become members of this club that none of us want to be a part of,” said Quinton Lucas, the mayor of Kansas City, who was at the parade with his wife and mother.

A 43-year-old named Elizabeth Galvan, also known as Lisa Lopez-Galvan, was killed, and 22 others, ages 8 to 47, were injured. Two teenagers were in custody.

Then came the ritualistic responses, the offerings of thoughts and prayers, the pleas for gun reforms, the rhetorical questions about how much is enough and why this seems to be such a uniquely American problem.

“Praying for Kansas City,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the most valuable player of the Super Bowl victory over San Francisco, wrote on the social platform X. He added three prayer hands emojis. It would have been strange if he had said nothing. It would have been newsworthy if he had said more. Mahomes and his wife, Brittany, visited young victims at a hospital on Friday.

The N.F.L. issued a statement on Wednesday, three sentences of familiar post-tragedy boilerplate noting that “we are deeply saddened by the senseless shooting.”

Others in football, like Chiefs safety Justin Reid, pleaded for “real solutions.”

What bothers Kander, beyond the tragedy and the numbing repetition of gun violence, is what the shooting means for Kansas City. The city was surging with pride, he said, with the Chiefs, Taylor Swift and the news that Arrowhead Stadium, home of the football team, would be a site of World Cup soccer games in 2026.

“Kansas City has felt like the center of the universe, and that is not something that people here, including myself, have ever come close to experiencing,” Kander said. “That transfers to the way that you feel about yourself.”

The parade was not just about a football game. It was more than that — a culmination, a civic pronouncement.

And then the site of another tragic shooting.

By Wednesday night, the scene near Union Station looked like a postgame parking lot after a big game, covered with trash and discarded bottles.

But it was also different. There were abandoned clothes, lawn chairs, strollers. There was police tape. And there were tiny square pieces of colorful paper, the red and gold confetti that showered people there to celebrate all those good things of the past few days.


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