Your Costas Gun Control Commentary FAQ
On Sunday night, Bob Costas used his weekly platform during halftime of NBC's "Sunday Night Football" to make a plea for gun control. Three days later, as Costas surely intended, everyone's still talking about it. An issue like this inevitably raises countless questions in all sorts of different directions, so I figured I'd try to just answer them all in one place. I miss when every site had Frequently Asked Questions.
What did Costas say?
Here is the whole transcript (he only has one minute; it's really not that long): Well, you knew it was coming. In the aftermath of the nearly unfathomable of events in Kansas City, that most mindless of sports clichés was heard yet again: "Something like this really puts it all in perspective." Well, if so, that sort of perspective has a really short shelf life, since we will inevitably hear about the perspective we've supposedly again regained the next time ugly reality intrudes upon our games. Please. Those who need tragedies to continually recalibrate their sense of proportion about sports would seem to have little hope of ever truly achieving perspective. You want some actual perspective on this?
Well, a bit of it comes from Kansas City-based writer Jason Whitlock, with whom I do not always agree but who today, said it so well that we may as well just quote or paraphrase from the end of his article. "Our current gun culture," Whitlock wrote, "ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy. And that more convenience store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead. … Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments and bait us to embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it." In the coming days, Jovan Belcher's actions, and their possible connection to football, will be analyzed. Who knows? But here, writes Jason Whitlock, is what I believe. If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would still be alive today.
That sure does quote a lot from Jason Whitlock, doesn't it?
Sure does. I actually had a hard time figuring out where to put the quotes marks in there. (Still not sure I got it right.) The funny thing is that Whitlock's column is only half about gun control. In typical Whitlock fashion, he sort of abandons the point he was making in the first half of the column -- that the NFL shouldn't have made the Chiefs play -- and awkwardly stumbles into a gun control argument in the second half. Whitlock and Costas are strange bedfellows, to say the least. I suppose we should just be pleased Costas' commentary wasn't about Jeremy Lin.
Enough about Whitlock. What about Bob?
Yeah, he sort of takes Whitlock's strategy, starting his commentary one way -- wagging his finger at the media hordes beneath him, who lack his perspective; that "please" is vintage Costas tsk-tsking -- and then yanks it toward gun control. Crediting it to Whitlock gives Costas some cover; it's just Whitlock saying this and "saying it well." You saw this a little in an interview with Bill Carter of the New York Times the next day; while making it clear that he wasn't backing down on anything he said, Costas did note that he was merely quoting Whitlock. Costas emphasized in his Carter chat that he wasn't trying to repeal the Second Amendment or take away people's guns, but, then, "I think most reasonable people think we do not have sufficient controls on the availability of guns and ammunition." Many of those who disagree with Costas would argue that statement is precisely "repealing" the Second Amendment; certainly, he's saying he wanted to take away somebody's gun.
In trying to take the politics out of it, he even narrowed his argument to the point of absurdity, saying, "I defy anyone to give me one example when an athlete having a gun averted trouble, defused a situation, protected someone from harm. But we can think of countless situations where an athlete having a gun led to tragedy." This is a straw man argument. Costas wasn't talking about athletes having guns; he was talking about people having guns. (Well, he was quoting Whitlock saying it, anyway.) I suppose in a way it was "brave" for Costas to say that at halftime of a signature NFL sporting event. But he was still hedging, during the commentary, and the next day.
So you don't think Bob Costas is trying to take away people's guns?
I do not think Bob Costas has this power, though I'll confess it would be amusing to watch him try.
Was it inappropriate for him to do this?
This question should probably have two parts. Since I'm writing the questions here, I'm giving it those parts.
a: Should Costas have talked about issues of gun control at halftime of a major sporting event?
I don't see why not. NBC has given Costas that time so he can give commentary, and that's what commenters do: They comment. I'm not sure why Costas considers these one-minute halftime chats his version of Edward R. Murrow serving as the nation's conscience, but more power to him: He's earned the airtime, even if he doesn't always use it that wisely. (His rant about "showboating" from last season is not going to appear on his career highlight reel, though Emma Carmichael of Deadspin's line about Costas' extended grumble about the world being "too busy keeping up with the Kardashians to notice [that] we live in a culture that in many ways grows more stupid and graceless by the moment" still makes me laugh: "Somewhere, on a La-Z-Boy in rural New England, a senile 80-year-old pumped his fist in agreement and wondered who the hell the Kardashians are.")
Costas has every right to talk about whatever he wants. Every entertainer/broadcaster/writer wants a large audience, and other than the Olympics, those halftime soliloquies are as big an audience as anyone in sports has. I'll certainly take Costas trying to make a point about gun control over Terry Bradshaw yee-hawing, Mike Florio haranguing athletes for not skipping their child's birth over a football game or whatever it is in the world Chris Berman is doing anymore. People always complain about taking politics out of sports, but sports, frankly, is almost entirely free of overt politics already, in a way, really, no other field in entertainment is. Bringing up an issue like that never hurt anybody.
b: Should Costas have brought this up less than 36 hours after Belcher killed himself and his girlfriend?
Here's the question, I think. As much as Whitlock (and Costas, I guess) claim that Belcher and Perkins would still be alive if Belcher didn't possess a gun … I dunno, I'm not sure the evidence necessarily supports that. We've learned that Belcher had a history of issues with substance abuse and with violence, and that the Chiefs apparently knew of the issues he'd had with Perkins. To call this a sudden crime of impulse, a man snapping out of nowhere and just happening to have a gun nearby, seems to be pushing it. Belcher appears to have been a violent, powerful man in a point of extreme distress and anger; I'm not sure he needed any gun. Now Costas might not have known any of this at the time of his commentary, which is a pretty solid reason not to say anything, actually. He criticizes those who use the tragic incident for vapid discussion of "perspective," but he would like to use the tragic incident for entirely different purposes: His own. Whether you find these purposes noble or not -- and I'll confess that I personally do -- it doesn't dismiss the fact that Costas was capitalizing on a tragedy to advance his own viewpoints. That's fine, of course: He's a commenter. But he can't then pretend to be simultaneously above it all.
Never mind that if the gun control Costas advocates -- or says should be in place for athletes, or whatever point he eventually landed on -- were enacted, Belcher still would have had a gun. It makes more sense to make Costas' anti-gun points after, say, the Dark Knight Rises shooting, or Gabby Giffords, incidents that were escalated by a gun, incidents in which a knife or a rope or fists would have done definitively less damage. Whenever people make big statements like Costas', they always claim they were called to "by the moment," as if they had no choice, as if they simply had to respond as they did. But this isn't that sort of incident. If anything, the Belcher story should heed calls for the NFL to do something about what is turning out to be a serious domestic violence issue. That's the issue that's seems to be blinking neon after this, and one that Costas belatedly brought up on "Costas Tonight," his talk show in the NBC Sports Network. But in his SNF commentary, Costas only saw the gun.
So you don't think Costas should have done it?
I think anyone willing to go on national television, during a nonpartisan sporting event, and make sort of stand on anything, should be applauded. It's a relief to see anyone on sports television saying anything more meaningful than "and now a promotional word from our friends at Nike." Those who were most upset by Costas' commentary are, as he pointed out, people who disagreed with him. Trust me, had Costas said, "don't blame guns for this tragedy," nobody at Fox News would be telling him to "shut your mouth." I'm impressed that he did it. (Though one suspects, perhaps not as impressed as Costas himself.) I just wish he had picked his moment a bit better. But it's not nothing, what he did.
In fact, I hope he takes a cue from this and starts really upsetting the apple cart during his halftime talks. I'd love to hear what Costas thinks about the sponsors of "Sunday Night Football," the boner pills, the alcohol, the sloppy fat-laden pizzas that are making our country more obese. It'd be great to hear him really dig in deep on the league's concussion policy, specifically on how it relates to retired players. Maybe he can talk about how the entire sports industrial complex -- at which nationally televised primetime network football is at the center -- is powered by young men like Belcher pushing themselves to the physical and mental limit on non-guaranteed contracts so that we can all make money of it, whether it's through our television commentaries, our Internet commentaries, our boner pill advertisements. Maybe he'll get inspired. Maybe he'll go after everyone who is a part of all this, including himself. But I bet the next commentary recedes, is a little safer. The last thing Costas needs is to be seen as some sort of political advocate; he doesn't want to be Olbermann-ed, who can't even talk about Jimmie Foxx anymore without someone screaming "COMMUNIST!" at him. He's too invested to go all Howard Beale. It'd be fun to watch, though.
Don't you have a history with Costas?
I have met Bob Costas twice, which isn't much history. I've always admired his work -- he's at his absolute best during interviews, including his terrific grilling of Jerry Sandusky last year and a smart, thorough chat with President Bush during the 2008 Olympics -- and think he's an underrated play-by-play baseball broadcaster. I'll confess to finding his smarm a bit over-the-top, but that's probably a generational thing. (I'm sure in 30 years, I'll be ranting about the kids and their hoverboards and their cold fusion too.) I've been told Costas isn't a fan of mine because I wrote a piece that was perceived as critical of him and people on television aren't used to that. But, regardless, I like the man's work and generally assume most people feel the same. My mother and my wife, both of whom are still sore about the Bissinger incident, excluded.
So, seriously, Costas isn't going to take our guns, is he?
He'll have to pry them from my cold, dead hands.
(Seriously, I've been sitting on these hands all day and can barely feel them.)
(Also, I don't own a gun. Please don't rob me.)
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You know what I was impressed most by Costas' commentary? That he even came across Whitlock's column at all means he does, in fact, read the Internet. Progress! Bob, there's all sorts of great stuff here at Sports On Earth. Thoughts, concerns, grousing, future column ideas? Remember, this column is meant as a valve, a release, for when you're yelling at your television during games, or, after reading a particular column, you're pounding your fists into your computer. Obviously, I'll need your help to do that. Anything you want me to write about, let me know, through email or Twitter. I am at your beck and call.