Tragic NFL package can't easily be wrapped
Bob Costas skipped over some clichés - and realities - when talking about Jovan Belcher
The nerve of that Bob Costas.
Who does NBC's resident moralist think he is, intruding on football fans' enjoyment of Sunday Night Football by spending 90 seconds talking about life and death and gun violence?
Just because Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered Kasandra Perkins, 22, the mother of his three-month-old daughter, on Saturday morning, then drove to the stadium and turned the gun on himself, leaving an infant without parents before she ever really knew them, where does that buzz-kill Costas get off ruining halftime by going on about America's gun culture, when we could be watching game highlights?
Doesn't he know that guns don't kill people - people kill people?
We don't need his lefty opinions when it's Football Night in America. If he wants to lecture us on morality and give us his sanctimonious speeches, let him go into politics. We watch sports to get away from real life, not be exposed to it. Leave the second amendment alone, Costas. Guns protect decent people, because the bad guys don't play by the rules ...
Sad, isn't it? Reaction to Sunday night's halftime essay by the NBC host has mainly focused on the inappropriateness of using his forum to delve into one of the most divisive issues in the United States - gun control - because ... well, just because. He's a sports guy. What does he know?
One of the critics' arguments: O.J. Simpson, a former broadcasting sidekick of Costas, didn't need a gun, did he? So there.
Costas's mistake appears to be that he didn't stop at lamenting the fact that after every such violent death involving a sports figure, the old "this really puts things into perspective" cliché is resurrected ... for about 10 minutes. And then the thought evaporates because, holy crap, did you see that lick the linebacker put on the receiver in the Buffalo game?
"Please," said Costas. "Those who need tragedies to continually recalibrate their sense of proportion about sports would seem to have little hope of ever truly achieving perspective."
Maybe he should have just left it at that. Maybe he shouldn't have gone on, quoting from a very fine and passionate anti-guns column by FOX Sports' K.C.-based Jason Whitlock, who often misses by a mile, but got this one right.
He was struck by the murderer's twisted impulse after he shot his girlfriend in front of his mother and infant daughter just before 8 o'clock in the morning, the day before the Chiefs' home game against Carolina.
Belcher drove immediately from the murder scene to the Chiefs' facility, crashed his car through the gates and then, with head coach Romeo Crennel and GM Scott Pioli presumably trying to talk him off the ledge, he thanked them and then shot himself in the head.
Whitlock wrote: "Belcher's last moments on this earth weren't spent thanking the mother who raised him or apologizing to the child he would orphan. His final words of gratitude and perhaps remorse were reserved for his football gods."
It's a complex and thorny issue, we realize that. It goes off in all directions - to the nation's out-of-all-proportion reverence for football (as ours is devoted to hockey) ... to the incidence of domestic violence among pro athletes ... to brain-damaged athletes, and a friend's report that Belcher had suffered episodes of short-term memory loss since a hit in a game a few weeks ago ... to whether Sunday's game should have gone on as scheduled, or been postponed ... to whether the Chiefs could have worn black armbands or patches with Belcher's number on their shoulders, or helmets (they didn't, thank goodness).
But also, quite legitimately, to the question Whitlock posed and Costas re-asked: whether the player and his girlfriend would be alive today if he hadn't had a gun handy.
Costas is no naïf - he knew that there was no percentage in opening such an emotion-charged can of worms during a football telecast, which is why it's so laudable that he was willing to take the risk for something he believed in. One of these days a Canadian sports network insider will actually take an anti-owners stand on the hockey lockout and we'll all faint dead away.
In truth, Costas could have gone much deeper, if he'd had the inclination, or the time. He could have tried to get to the heart of America's gun culture by exploring its fixation on the military - why every sports occasion nowadays, must include a genuflection to the hero-soldiers defending the rights and freedoms of the Western world in those god-forsaken places where the U.S. government has decided to impose its political vision on the locals.
He could have delved into the illogic of being surprised when the kinds of athletes who excel at a violent sport don't always turn off the violence when they get home from the office.
Fortunately for football fans everywhere, the Chiefs provided a satisfactory ending: a win, and an emotional postgame speech by their big bear of a coach, Crennel, who had witnessed a valued team member's shocking suicide little more than 24 hours earlier, and somehow got through the day on the sidelines with plenty of hugs for his players. That part, at least, was real.
"We're football players and coaches. That's what we do on Sundays," said Crennel. Simple and true.
"None of the options were good," said Chiefs centre Ryan Lilja. "The least worst option was to play. There was no precedent for this, and I don't know if it was the right or wrong choice. But we chose to do it together."
Besides, the show in the NFL must go on, and as luck would have it, the script fit nicely into the TV version of reality: the win in memory of a dead friend, the start of the healing, the moving-on, yadda-yadda-yadda. All those clichés Costas declined to mention, in his insistence on dragging reality into the living room.
There's enough material for a real Made in America movie here. Murder-suicide works. Bang, bang, bang. The bittersweet ending. Tears in the locker-room.
Of course, it would be better with a SWAT team in there. Or Navy Seals.
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