There isn’t much I can add to the discourse amongst my fellow Chiefs fans regarding the events of two weekends ago. I moped all day Saturday and fought back tears in the final seconds of the game Sunday. I do my best to remain stoic and steadfast in the face of tragedy, but my heart is genuinely heavy for Cheryl Shepherd (Belcher’s mother), Scott Pioli, and Romeo Crennel — all eyewitnesses to senseless acts of violence by a seemingly well mannered, hardworking young man in whom all three were deeply vested.
On Sunday night, Bob Costas echoed the sentiments of one of my favorite plagiarists, Jason Whitlock, stating that Belcher’s crime would have been prevented were we a country with stricter gun laws. The reaction online was swift and loud–Costas should get off his soapbox and stick to football. This surely came as no surprise to Costas himself. He’s a smart guy. He owns a globe. He knows where Kansas City is located.
I, like Costas, carry a liberal stance on most social issues. On the subject of gun control, however, we’re not on the same page. Fundamentally speaking, I view guns virtually the same way I view cars. You should own as many or as few as you like; once you buy them, it’s your responsibility to make sure whomever uses them operates them safely and correctly; and under no circumstance should they be used in conjunction with alcohol.
That last point is important. Belcher’s toxicology report isn’t yet available, but based on the accounts of his Friday night/Saturday morning companions, it’s safe to assume that he, in strictly scientific terminology, was drunk off his ass. As we’ve seen from this past weekend’s events in Dallas, or in years past with the lovable Leonard Little, alcohol + vehicle is every bit as effective a means for a football player to end another human being’s life as is alcohol + firearm.
That said, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that, in the absence of a gun, that Belcher would have just as handily found another means by which to kill Kasandra Perkins. Perhaps he would have, but whereas a kitchen knife or a golf club has an alternate purpose, guns have the singular function of terminating life. That makes them very useful if you’re in a situation wherein terminating life is the correct response (see: Sean Taylor — his story alone lends credence to the idea I’ve heard floated around that every athlete would be better off if they did own a gun), but there’s a serious ethical and moral obligation that accompanies that sort of power, and while our Bill of Rights rightly protects our right to have that power, the Amendment itself should not in turn be used as justification to downplay just how heavy that obligation is, and the manners in which some men falter under that weight in their weaker moments. Thus, I think it’s absolutely necessary that we have the discussion from time to time as to how we carry that weight.
The question then becomes whether or not Bob Costas is the right guy to raise the issue. To that, despite our differences in opinion, I say yes, yes, a thousand times yes. To begin, Costas isn’t Jon Gruden or Ron Jaworski. While he understands the Xs and Os at a level the layman doesn’t, his knowledge of the workings of the game pales in comparison to that of a former player or coach. The reason he’s done such a stellar job of sticking around for so many decades is precisely the reason why he’s exactly the right guy to raise the issue — he understands and communicates the human element of athletic competition better than just about any other journalist I can name. It’s what makes him the right guy for the Olympics every other year. It’s what made him the right guy to hand the noose to Jerry Sandusky. There are thousands of writers and reporters in Costas’ mold, but none of us are boxing in his weight class. He’s the undisputed champ in a field of one.
Suppose for a moment, however, that he wasn’t. Suppose those words had come instead from…. say…. Joe Buck. If Joe Buck came on the air at halftime on a Sunday night and espoused a political/social viewpoint that was contrary to my own, does the fact that he isn’t a cultural barometer in the same vein as Costas diminish his right to share his thoughts? We often carry this mantra that actors, musicians, artists, and other entertainers (sometimes journalists too) should keep their opinions to themselves, excepting the handful who think and speak like us. That premise is prejudicial. You, me, and the overwhelming majority of people you interact with in your daily life will from time to time share their political and social views, particularly in election years. Sometimes by request. Sometimes not. Celebrities do the same, on account of the fact that it’s a normal behavior. Their proximity to a microphone neither validates nor invalidates their opinion. Likewise, their proximity to a microphone neither validates nor invalidates their right to express that opinion.
Even when they’re wrong.