Although the 2012 election saga is generally over, we are apparently not finished hearing celebrities use their limelight to burden us with their political opinions. Don’t get me wrong: the rich and famous have the same rights to freedom of speech as the rest of us, and they also happen to have a captive audience (voluntary or otherwise) for every cause that stirs their passion. However, I think most people have grown weary of having politics woven into arenas which ought to be strictly for entertainment. When I go to a concert, I want music: not a diatribe from a singer on a soapbox. While Hollywood and the music industry have been particularly plagued by political interruption over the past decade, the world of sports seemed to remain as the last unpolluted stronghold of nationally syndicated entertainment…until this weekend.
On December 1, 2012, a football player for the Kansas City Chiefs allegedly shot and killed his girlfriend (the mother of his young child) and later committed suicide in the parking lot of the football stadium. Without question, this was a shocking tragedy. The NFL reportedly spoke to the owner and coaching staff of the Chiefs (two of whom actually witnessed the suicide), who insisted that Sunday’s game continue as planned. I initially shook my head at this decision, but the more I thought about it, it made sense: sports are meant to help us take our minds off the dark, heavy burdens of the real world. So while everyone would have understood if the team had wished to postpone the game, it is equally understandable that they would want to carry on as scheduled. Ironically, the Chiefs put on what was arguably their best performance of the season, showing remarkable drive and unity and ultimately winning the game. I don’t believe this was coincidental, and it was a fantastic display of the triumph of the human spirit.
Later on Sunday, during halftime of the primetime game, the sports world attempted to give “perspective” on the horrible events through the words of Bob Costas – a long-time and well-respected sports broadcaster. And this is where it all went wrong. Bob’s speech even began on the wrong foot. He contemptuously cited the cliché that “something like this really puts things into perspective,” implying that the nation follows sports mindlessly and without regard to the fact that it’s “just a game.” He also (and not indirectly) implied that fans are so shallow as to quickly forget that perspective and to need repeated reminders in the forms of future tragedies. First of all, Bob has obviously overlooked the main purpose of sporting events, which is to provide us a much-needed escape from what is often disturbing reality. It isn’t that we don’t know or care about the terrible and sad happenings in the world today; on the contrary, we know and care about them very much. It is reasonable to say that we are sometimes unduly shocked when tragic reality crosses over into our realm of escape, but it is completely undeserved to suggest that lovers of sports have no concept of what is truly important. And coming from someone who has dedicated his entire adult life to a career in sports media, his words – if warranted – should cut him to the heart.
Unfortunately, Bob wasn’t finished. After unfairly chastising his entire viewing audience for their lack of proper priorities and apparent human decency, he launched into a rant on the need for more gun control. In what I imagine was a preemptive attempt to mitigate his damages, he offered his bold opinion through quotes from a local Kansas City columnist, Jason Whitlock. He did preface his reading of those comments by saying that Whitlock “said it so well that we may as well just quote or paraphrase from the end of his article,” thereby fully acknowledging that he shared the writer’s viewpoint on the matter. I would probably have had more respect for Costas’ views had he used his own words without hiding behind another’s editorial, but then again, an editorial column is the correct venue for political opinions, while halftime of an NFL game is not.
I will not deny that I am a vocal advocate of the 2nd Amendment rights of American citizens, and I believe we currently have far too much regulation in the way of “gun control” in this country. I do understand that many people feel differently, for various reasons, but in cases where the need for gun control is loudly touted, it is often done in conjunction with false or misleading statistics or only half of a whole picture. Costas (quoting Whitlock) claims that the legal ownership of handguns leads to rising statistics in deadly domestic disputes and confrontations. Handguns, he asserts, don’t make us safer but rather the opposite: they bring out the worst in us, cause us to lose control of our tempers and encourage us to “fight” when we should “fly.” All of those insinuations are based on biased statistics intended to support the anti-gun cause, and they ignore the giant elephant in the room, which is this: human nature isn’t changed by having or not having a handgun. Not to mention the fact that in a vast majority of firearm murder statistics, the actor was not in legal possession of the weapon used to commit the crime. If handguns made us inherently more evil, the number of crimes committed by legal gun owners would be quite close to the actual number of legal gun owners, and even anti-gun activists can’t allege that to be true.
Possibly the most irritating assumption made by Costas (Whitlock) was that “if Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.” Costas’ ignorant conjecture disregards the number of lives saved every year by handguns in possession of law-abiding citizens. His argument speciously concludes that gun control is necessary and worthwhile if only to have prevented these two deaths, but that is hardly persuasive for the anti-gun movement. Conversely, the same argument could be used against gun control by pointing to two instances where lives had been spared by possession or use of a handgun. But Costas’ claim itself is pure speculation with absolutely zero evidence to prove it. Belcher did commit the alleged murder and his own suicide using a handgun, but the instrument meant for protecting life is also a convenient way to take it: the gun itself knows neither morality nor immorality. To defensibly contend that the murder-suicide would not have occurred without a handgun would require statistics showing that murders and/or suicides didn’t take place prior to the permission of citizen gun ownership. Moreover, statistics from cities, states and countries with tougher – or total – restrictions on firearm ownership would directly correspond with a drastic decrease in violent crimes and murders, but in fact, those statistics reflect the exact opposite. The cold, ugly truth is that a person whose heart and mind are so darkened as to even contemplate killing themselves or someone else will do so regardless of whether there is a firearm at their disposal.
While it might have been remiss on the part of the NFL to make no formal mention of the tragedy in Kansas City, Costas’ insensitive and biased tirade was not the way it should have been handled. Regardless of one’s personal views on gun control, hopefully we can agree that this was in poor tasted and discretion. When an analyst or commentator speaks in such a setting, they ought to be – to the best of their ability – representing the views of the league and its players, rather than using network airtime as a platform for their own political agenda. After all these years in sports broadcasting, Bob, you of all people should know your role. It may well have been Jason Whitlock’s place to project his anti-gun sentiment upon his audience, but it was certainly not in any part of Bob Costas’ job description.