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Bob Costas, Gun Control and the Jovan Belcher Murder-Suicide

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After a full 24 hours, I still feel the need to give my commentary on Bob Costas' gun control lecture following Jovan Belcher's murder-suicide.

Great minds such as Sophocles and William Shakespeare promoted the metaphoric phrase, "Don't shoot the messenger," but on December 2, 2012, it became clear that the messenger overstepped his duty.

In case you haven't heard, Costas used the platform of NBC's Sunday Night Football to deliver a 90 second segment during halftime of the Eagles-Cowboys game to essentially give his personal belief about gun control while hiding behind quotes from a Kansas City writer named Jason Whitlock (more on him later).

Whether you personally believe in supporting gun control or the right to bear arms, I'm not here to debate. However, I do believe that Costas overstepped a boundary in delivering this statement to over 18 million viewers, "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.'"

I believe it's safe to say, that of the 18 million viewers tuned in on Sunday night, less than 10% expected to hear Costas' take on gun control. Viewers tuned in to watch football and were instead given a lecture. Information and debate are great for society, but force-fed political commentary in an unexpected atmosphere is not the status quo. If a viewer wanted to hear a debate about the second amendment, that viewer would have been tuned in to a different network. Simply put, it was inappropriate for Costas to deliver his personal, political message in that setting. Costas is a sportscaster first and foremost, and if he wanted to give his take, he should delivered it in a more appropriate setting, such as on NBC's sister network, MSNBC. 

In an effort to provide a dose of reality within an entertainment realm, Costas made his mark by essentially bringing the gun control debate to a national consciousness. If you recall, during the presidential debates, neither President Obama or Governor Romney would even touch the subject of gun control. If presidential hopefuls aren't willing to give their take, obviously the issue is divisive, personal, and carries strong opinions. By giving Whitlock's column an amplified, national voice, Costas ensured the debate would rage on. 

With all of that in mind, I believe that the most damaging sentiment is the fact that Costas and Whitlock believe that a 6'4", 230 pound inside linebacker wouldn't have taken the life of the mother of his child without the use of a firearm. None of us know what was going on in Belcher's mind at that time, but if he was willing to pull the trigger on Perkins multiple times (completely ensuring her death), who's to say he wasn't willing to use any means necessary to take her life? 

A gun may have presented the easiest option, but does that mean that if Belcher didn't have a gun, Perkins would still be alive? Are we to presume that Belcher would have been unwilling to use his dominating strength? Would a knife have been too intimate? Simply put, would beating the life out of his girlfriend, the mother of his three month old child, have been too much for him to bear? I don't buy it. Jovan Belcher committed murder with the deadliest of intentions. Belcher murdered Perkins with his own mother and child in the house. If he can commit an act like that in the presence of the woman who gave him life, then the man is capable of the most heinous actions. 

Belcher perpetrated another case of domestic violence, and gun or no gun, it was going to end badly. By posing as righteous leaders of life with anti-gun sentiments, Costas and Whitlock missed the larger point. Belcher needed help. That relationship needed help. Now, that child will need help. Glossing over the mental health of Belcher, Costas and Whitlock zeroed in on a political matter rather than identifying the true culprit of the situation. Why is personal responsibility so often overlooked?

As for Belcher's suicide, the man was ready to die. After killing Perkins, Belcher raced to the Chiefs' practice facility, thanked his coach and general manager, and then shot himself in the head as police arrived. He was not willing to pay the price of murder. He was not planning to live the rest of his life behind bars. All that would have changed in that situation without a gun, is that Belcher wouldn't have had the time to give his last words to his football authorities. Belcher would have found another way to end his life. My guess is that he would have killed himself in a car accident, but it could have been any number of options. 

In giving Whitlock a national audience, Costas backed a man that was fired from ESPN for delivering disparaging remarks about two of his colleagues, a man that promotes stereotypes, such as this statement about Jeremy Lin, "Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple inches of pain tonight," and a man that just stated, "I believe the NRA is the new KKK." Whitlock's reputation and political agenda should have served as an editorial caution, but Costas misguidedly decided to promote such an agenda to a mostly 18-49 male demographic. Some believe Costas is a courageous champion of civil and social affairs, I believe Costas abused his power and simplified a tragic event.

Whitlock's article makes some solid points, points that are great for reflection and debate. But those points should have been read by those who follow his column. Among those points, Whitlock touches upon self-control, race relations, and the government, before concluding, "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." While that sentiment may hold some credence, it has nothing to do with Jovan Belcher. Belcher's use of a handgun as his weapon of choice is undeniable, but when looking at his murder-suicide in context, it becomes clear that Belcher entered a murderous state of mind, and he was ready to use any weapon available. Either Whitlock truly believes that Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins would be alive today if guns were not a part of the equation, or he sees a prime opportunity to use a devastating tragedy as a symbolic promotion of a political agenda. 

Overall, the real issue is that Costas and Whitlock turned this sensitive matter into a debate about gun control. Mental health deserves more than that. Domestic abuse deserves more than that. Kasandra Perkins deserves more than that. Zoey Belcher deserves more than that.

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