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Culture & Politics

Costas: Just Copying Cosell

by Robert W. Hunnicutt   |  December 4th, 2012 2

Lots of gun owners were hopping mad when NBC sports commentator Bob Costas quoted a Kansas City sports columnist to the effect that the recent murder-suicide committed by Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher could have been prevented by stricter gun control:

“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 the 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 into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it. In the coming days, Jovan Belcher’s actions, (and its possible connection to football), will be analyzed. Who knows? But here, (wrote Jason Whitlock) is what I believe, If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.”

Maybe I’m just cynical, but my attitude on this is that what Costas said Sunday night probably sold 10,000 guns on Monday, so thanks for the publicity, Bob. More cynically, I suspect this is Costas attempting to claim the socially responsible vestments worn with such aplomb by the late Howard Cosell in the 1970s.

Cosell was prone to pontificate on the political issues of the day, most notably in the context of Muhammad Ali, at the time a highly polarizing figure. Cosell happened largely to be right about Ali, who has come to be a beloved personality (probably more beloved than he really deserves). The fact he was right didn’t keep Cosell from greatly aggravating many a sports fan, to the point that a Texas bar held regular contests in which the winner got to shoot the TV screen the first time Humble Howard appeared.

So it’s hardly a shock that Costas from time to time veers from straight sports analysis into the award-winning Cosell’s former territory. Some on our side, like Tom Gresham,  have responded by appealing to the facts and figures, and that’s always worthwhile.

But I’d like to take it a different direction. More and more research is showing that professional football (and even Pop Warner football) often causes brain damage, leading to high profile suicides like Belcher’s or those of former San Diego star Junior Seau or Chicago Bear Dave Duerson. We all love football, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the toll it exacts in brain damage may mean its future is dim. The NFL is facing a class action suit from 3,000 former players who say they have suffered long-term brain damage from concussions suffered playing the game. The NCAA will be an equally tempting target, given the huge revenues earned by unpaid college athletes. Research is showing that even high school and younger players risk permanent brain damage.

The Whitlock/Costas argument boils down to this: Jovan Belcher was quite possibly brain damaged by playing football. But that wouldn’t have mattered if he hadn’t had a gun. So in other words, to protect the NFL’s $9 billion annual revenue, we should restrict or eliminate a constitutional right and endanger the gun industry’s $6 billion annual revenue.

Sorry, God forbid we are reduced to watching soccer, but if that’s what it takes to sell beer and car batteries instead of football, I guess we can get used to it. I love football, but I love the Bill of Rights a lot more.

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