Bob Costas, the renowned sports broadcaster, took to the airwaves on Sunday night to comment on the tragic murder-suicide committed by former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher to condemn America’s gun culture and to call for stricter gun laws.
Costas is the finest sports voice of our generation -- he is witty, funny, literate, passionate and engaging (unlike the many blowhards who pollute sports journalism).
But he was absolutely wrong to use “Sunday Night Football” as a pulpit for his views and politicize an NFL game.
Granted, given the magnitude of the drama -- Belcher, a 24-year-old rising star, killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and later himself with a shotgun, leaving behind an infant daughter -- Costas had to address the issue in some way.
But Costas (who to the best of my knowledge has never waded into political topics during game broadcasts before) stepped out of bounds this time.
During halftime of a game between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, Costas quoted comments made earlier by Kansas City-based sports columnist Jason Whitlock, who wrote “our current gun culture simply ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy," adding that “if Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.''
Quoting Whitlock, Costas also said: “Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it."
(Whitlock also called for the Chiefs-Carolina Panthers to be canceled in the wake of the shootings.)
No one can deny that the U.S. has a serious problem with gun violence. However, violent crime rates, including murder, have been steadily dropping for the past two decades, despite the proliferation of guns in private ownership.
Moreover, the overwhelming majority of (legal) gun owners are law-abiding citizens who have never shot or killed anyone. They primarily keep guns to hunt animals or to defend their homes and property.
But that’s not even the point -- the main issue is the appropriateness of turning a halftime show into MSNBC.
I don’t know if Belcher acquired his weapon legally or not -- he clearly was not seeking to use it in self-defense. Regardless of whatever problems he was suffering from -- reports indicate he had substance abuse issues as well as a turbulent relationship with his girlfriend -- Belcher was not a victim of the gun culture. He was a coward and a cold-blooded killer who murdered the mother of his child.
Belcher does not deserve our pity, nor should Costas have used him to make a political statement.
Costas (who should know better) would have been better served by pontificating his views on guns on a talk show or serious news program, not during half-time of a pro football game designed to entertain millions of fans.
If an NFL player had died during the 9/11 attacks, would Costas have blamed the U.S. government’s foreign policy in the Middle East? Had an athelete drowned during Hurricane Sandy, would Costas have accused state officials in New York and New Jersey of dereliction of duty?
Just keep your personal political views to yourself, Bob, and stick to play-by-play.