Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Belcher, Costas, and Irresponsibility

Bob Costas had a good gig going.

At least, he did, up until Sunday night.

Last Saturday, Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend to death in the home they shared with their daughter.  Then Belcher went to Arrowhead Stadium, where he played, and shot himself to death after speaking with his coach.

Sunday night, during NBC's prime time coverage of the Philadelphia-Dallas game, Costas devoted part of his network's halftime show to a gun control rant, using the previous day's murder-suicide committed by an NFL player as his platform.  And football fans started howling in protest!

Costas may be 60 years old, but he still looks like the kid we've watched for years.  He's the Dick Clark of sports broadcasting, always perky, always erudite, always well-coiffed, always impeccably-dressed.  He never stammers, even when ad-libbing.  And his breadth of knowledge regarding sports, combined with his uncanny ability to recall precise details from decades of statistics, has earned him multiple stints as an Olympics host, along with other plum assignments across the athletic spectrum.

Of course, one of the reasons he's established himself as such a polished, professional announcer and personality involved his ability to project a neutral opinion on politics.  For the most part, he's kept his mouth shut on dicey topics, and he lets the sports he covers play themselves out in an arena devoid of partisanship.

At least, he did, up until Sunday night.

Granted, Belcher's actions caught many football fans by surprise, even if his team, as we've learned, was privately trying to assist Belcher and his girlfriend in resolving their domestic problems.  If Costas hadn't said what he said about gun control, the public debate regarding this tragedy might have been whether Kansas City should have played the next day, or whether the NFL should have allowed a re-schedule out of respect for the families involved.

But no, Costas took it upon himself to drag gun control into the broadcast booth with him Sunday night, and in the process, many football fans, who are also ardent advocates for our Second Amendment, view him in a whole different light today.

Perhaps not with enough anger to demand his resignation, since after all, sports audiences have grown comfortable with Costas, even if they haven't known his personal thoughts on a variety of non-athletic issues.  In addition, he's entitled to his opinions, although perhaps what's resounding more from grumbling fans isn't animosity, but disappointment, since Costas isn't as much one of their own as they'd heretofore let themselves believe.

To Costas' claim, however, that gun violence is responsible for Belcher's actions, isn't it even more disturbing that somebody with Coastas' pedigree still doesn't get it?  Yes, access to guns was obviously easy for Belcher, but if he was so enraged at his girlfriend, is the convenience of guns to blame?  What about Belcher's rage?  Personal responsibility for one's actions is crucial in any society, and the fact that a few people ignore their responsibilities with weapons of any kind doesn't mean the weapons themselves must be outlawed.

The argument is well-known:  do we outlaw cars, since people drive irresponsibly?  We don't say cars kill people, we say drivers kill people.  And besides, Belcher's guns were as legal as any car.  What additional laws would have prevented him from doing what he did?

News reports say that Belcher was out partying and got drunk on Friday night.  Might alcohol be a bigger culprit to this scenario than guns?  If so, there's no way Costas could go on a live televised diatribe against the alcohol industry, since beer money is what fuels professional sports.  Nor could Costas complain about the party attitude that's known to pervade many pro sports locker rooms.  Team owners, managers, and fans pamper athletes, wink at their escapades and debauchery, and only try to draw lines when too much bad publicity threatens to overwhelm their on-field performance.  If Belcher was still drunk when he killed the mother of his daughter and then himself, does it really matter if he used a gun, or a car, or anything else?

Personal irresponsibility.  That's what Belcher got wrong.

Not that I oppose laws against driving drunk.  In fact, I think that in our society, too many people still pooh-pooh the notion that they should rigidly monitor their alcohol intake before they drive home.  I've been to plenty of dinner parties where guests guzzle booze and joke about "this is probably one too many," which is about the time I head for the door and get in my car so I'm safe at home when they hit the streets.

Nor do I oppose some of our laws designed to regulate gun purchases and licensing.  Just because the Constitution guarantees a right to bear arms doesn't mean our government doesn't have the right to monitor those weapons.  But isn't it hard to see how any more gun laws will "control" anything?  Our country is awash in guns, and just like anything else, we can't legislate moral gun acquisitions and usage.  Especially since the vast majority of gun owners use them responsibly.

How many more ways can it be said?  Focusing on guns shifts the perspective off of individual citizens and onto inanimate objects that can't vote, or switch TV channels.  The gun-centric frustration expressed by Costas and other people reacting to gun violence is utterly useless because it avoids the true culprit:  personal sin.

Factor in the likelihood that Belcher abused alcohol, plus the fact that he was content to produce a daughter with a woman he hadn't married, which means Belcher had a low view of womanhood, and Costas wouldn't otherwise have anything else to vent his politically-correct reaction towards - other than Belcher himself.  The fact that Belcher used a gun to kill, instead of a car, only made it easier for Costas to stage his little rant.

Belcher's path to murder-suicide was longer than reaching for a firearm.

That's the truly unsettling part of this story.  And something no laws can fix.

The gig is up.

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