Reflecting on Bob Costas’ comments on gun control

There has been a mini-firestorm over sportscaster Bob Costas’ remarks during halftime of a recent Sunday Night Football game.  Costas said that our country needs to be more serious about addressing the issue of handguns in our society.  His comments were in the wake of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher having used a gun to kill his girlfriend and shortly thereafter committing suicide in front of his coach and others at the Chief’s training facility.

There are some who think that his comments were out of line; others who think that they were words that need to be spoken.  You can hear his remarks work for word by watching the one minute forty-one seconds YouTube video below.

Several days after the game, I was listening to the local ESPN radio outlet in St. Louis, MO.  On the program called Fast Lane, there were three commentators (Randy Karraker, DeMarco Farr, and Chris Duncan), who at times agreed on what Costas had said and at other times were selectively disagreed with his words.  Among their comments were:

  • I support the 2nd Amendment, but I think that Costas had every right to say what he did.
  • We take time to support our veterans at sports events, why not what Costas said?  Of course, everyone agrees about supporting our veterans.
  • During news programming, they cover President Obama filling out his bracket for the NCAA college basketball tournament.  Why not address the issue of control during a sports presentation?
  • People watch sports events as an escape from the issues in the news.  That’s why talking about things such as gun control or abortion should not be discussed in sports programming.

Alvin Reid, another commentator at ESPN 101 wrote:

Costas is one of few national sports broadcasters that dares to delve into real news. Unfortunately, most American sports fans don’t want their broadcasters having anything relevant to say when it comes to our society.

As a result, most sports media people avoid controversial subjects that don’t pertain to a game, player, fans, owner or stadium. In fact, here in St. Louis, most sports media people are avoiding discussion of the Edward Jones Dome lease and other stadium issues like a snarling pit bull.

Most of us want no part of real news. I am not putting myself on the level with a Costas or Washington Post columnist George Will. But I am one of the sports nuts who began his career as a news nut. I still am involved in both.

We are fewer and farther between than in any time since the 1960s.

One last note: I wrote after the late Junior Seau took his own life that the NFL has a problem with suicide. The column got dismissed in many circles.

My guess is that more people – hopefully in NFL offices – are coming around to my way of thinking.

There are many people who in Reid’s words are both “sports nuts” and “news nuts.”  In considerable ways, they share common characteristics:  Winning and losing; playing by the rules; playing under pressure; strategizing in the shadows of secrecy but playing before the public; succeeding by appealing to a great number of people; developing a “fan base.”

In the aftermath of his remarks, Costas, who by many is considered the best sportscaster of his generation, took himself to task.  While he stood by his comments, he said, “My big mistake was in trying to tackle a complex issue in just one minute 20 seconds.  I violated my first rule; that a broadcaster should never discuss on the air an issue that he or she does not have sufficient time to fully explain.”

Given more time, Costas crystalized his main point in the Los Angeles Times:

“Give me one example of an athlete — I know it’s happened in society — but give me one example of a professional athlete who by virtue of his having a gun, took a dangerous situation and turned it around for the better,” Costas said. “I can’t think of a single one. But sadly, I can think of dozens where by virtue of having a gun, a professional athlete wound up in a tragic situation.”

Too many times our leaders fail to address the role that guns play in our societal violence.  Whether it’s the horrendous massacre at a school in Newtown, CT; the senseless shooting of a congresswoman in Tucson, AZ, a slaughter at a movie theater in Aurora, CO; a shooting rampage at Virginia Tech University, many deplore the perpetrator but fail to express concern about the availability of the weapons that they used.  Three cheers to Bob Costas for filling the void created by most of our leaders, including many of our finest, who cower from addressing the issue of gun control because they fear public retaliation.  First we must talk; then act.  Thanks, Bob, for rekindling the dialogue.