The murder-suicide of Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher opened a door last night for veteran sportscaster Bob Costas. During the halftime show of NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” Costas faced his audience and spoke about the implications of Belcher’s actions for public policy.
His appeal borrowed extensively from an opinion piece written by the always-provocative Jason Whitlock on FoxSports.com. Among Whitlock’s key passages:
In the coming days, Belcher’s actions will be analyzed through the lens of concussions and head injuries. Who knows? Maybe brain damage triggered his violent overreaction to a fight with his girlfriend. What I believe is, if he didn’t possess/own a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.
That is the message I wish Chiefs players, professional athletes and all of us would focus on Sunday and moving forward. 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.
After Costas finished his Whitlock-based appeal, criticism of his decision to mix serious stuff with sports stuff surfaced on Twitter:
Such reaction speaks to the mentality of the sports consumer: Give me the game, the X’s and the O’s, the instant replays, the halftime highlights and leave the rest of the world out of it. It’s an understandable set of preferences. Sport, after all, is an escape.
But it’s also an unrealistic and narrow-minded set of preferences. NFL players live in our society and are bound by our laws. The things that they do affect the public beyond whether their teams cover the point spread. And few cases better exemplify that dynamic as powerfully as the Belcher incident, in which the player shot and killed his girlfriend and later himself.
Those circumstances didn’t merely provide Costas with a chance to raise larger issues on “Sunday Night Football”; they provided him with an obligation to do so. My impression of NFL game coverage is that commentators have tended to shrink away from commenting on serious issues that affect the game and society. They cowardly stick to analyzing the play of the offensive and defensive lines or the breakdowns in the cover-two, to the detriment of addressing things that actually matter.
So I say: More editorializing, more coverage of the nexus between sport and society and government, more spouting-off of the sort that’ll anger all those guys who wear team jerseys every Sunday.