Athletes and Guns – trying to stem the tide

Four members of the Football Hall of Fame and LaDainian Tomlinson, who likely is headed for Canton in the near future, collectively spoke on the gun control debate joining Mayors Against Illegal Guns calling on Congress to take immediate action and pass sensible gun reforms that will help end the gun violence epidemic that kills 33 Americans every day.

“Like most Americans, these football legends support sensible reforms that will help keep our children safe,” said Mayors Against Illegal Guns Co-Chair and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “Common-sense proposals like background checks for all gun sales, removing military-style assault weapons from our streets and gun trafficking legislation are already in the red zone – it’s time for Congress to take them over the goal line.”

“We are grateful that these sports heroes – who are also fathers, brothers and uncles – are choosing to speak out,” Mayors Against Illegal Guns Co-Chair and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said. “We need every voice to be heard to keep the pressure on Congress to pass legislation that will save American lives and make our neighborhoods safer.”

Five gridiron greats sends a resounding message regarding guns and athletes, key NFL players, some of the biggest and most important names to play in the National Football League in the last 20 years – there are two very different sides to the issue of NFL players and guns.

On NBC’s Sunday Night Football, Bob Costas raised the issue of gun control on during halftime of the December 2 show, a day after Jovan Belcher then a member of the Kansas City Chiefs murdered his girlfriend before turning the gun himself committing suicide in the parking lot of Arrowhead Stadium in front of Romeo Crennel the Chiefs head coach at the time. Costas was vilified by right to bear arms advocates (the gun lobby) slamming Costas for using Sunday Night Football as a platform to raise the issue of gun control in America.

A recent USA Today cover story reported 75% of current National Football League players own guns. Guns seemingly have been a part of the NFL culture for a very long time.

"Most guys when they first come into the league is when they first start to realize they need protection," former NFL running back Thomas Jones told the USA Today. "Because money brings a lot of positive things. But most of the time, it brings more negative things. People don't like you for what you have, for who you are. They don't like you for what you represent. And people will go to any length to take what you have or harm you in some way just because they don't have what you have. If you don't have a firearm to protect you from situations and God forbid something happens to you, you wish you would have a firearm."

Jones played with Belcher at the end of Jones career with the Kansas City Chiefs, serving as a big brother to Belcher. Belcher owned eight guns at the time of his murder/suicide.

Tony Dungy former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy speaking on NBC’s Sunday Night Football the same night Costas offered his thoughts on the issue said that while he was the Colts head coach at the start of his team’s training camp one year he asked the 80 assembled players how many owned guns. Much to Dungy’s surprise more than 60 (75%) indicated they owned guns.

"I was always shocked at the number of guys who raised their hand. ... That was kind of eye-opening to me. ... (But) it's just a fact of life. These guys had them. ... I think so many of these young guys have been around guns and have seen guns, and they just feel that's part of the landscape for them growing up." Dungy told USA Today.

Athletes collect guns. A great deal of focus has revolved around NFL players and guns as a direct result of Jovan Belcher – regardless guns and NFL players is an issue.

"I'm not ... trying to tell guys in the league they need to purchase firearms," Jones said in the USA Today report. "I'm just saying to be realistic about our lifestyle."

The ad from Mayors Against Illegal Guns is a follow-up to the PSA the group released just one week after the Newtown shooting featuring more than fifty prominent actors and artists demanding a plan. Mayors Against Illegal Guns worked with Suzy Shuster, former ABC Sports reporter and President of Hudson Productions to create the PSA.

"Working in sports for nearly the past twenty years, I have seen first-hand how gun violence affects athletes and their families," said Shuster. "I have such great respect and admiration for the strength and character of the men who appear in this video, and know how much this message will affect the young men and women who look up to them."

James Harrison a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers not only believes in collecting guns, not only believes in the right to bear arms but believes that guns are not the issue.

"It has nothing to do with the guns," Harrison told the USA Today. "Somebody goes out and kills somebody with a knife; you going to blame the knife? It's the person who did it who's responsible."

The gun culture that exists in the sports world as America has sadly seen runs through the very fabric of American society. When you can visit your local Wal-Mart or Dick’s Sporting Goods and buy a gun, it’s not only easy to purchase guns, it becomes commonplace.

"You've got good Americans who love to play sports, who are disciplined, who are responsible, and they're no different from any other Americans," the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre added. "Owning guns is a mainstream part of American culture, and it's growing every day."

Costas experienced a full frontal assault in the days following his December 2 Sunday Night Football diatribe. Costas again joined the gun control debate following the tragic Newtown, Connecticut shooting on December 14. Appearing on Jon Stewart’s Emmy Award winning Daily Show, Costas said: “When Jovan Belcher texts his friend who says ‘you better have a gun ready,’ and he replies, ‘I have eight,’ what does that tell you?”

“We have to acknowledge that guns are glorified in hip hop culture. Some 70 percent of players in the N.F.L. are African-American, not all of them are influenced by that part of the culture, but some are. Many of these kids come out of environments where it’s commonplace for a 14 or 15-year-old to be packing.”

“I think any sane person believes we ought not have high capacity magazines and assault rifles and that there ought to be background checks. You know what? I’m not exactly sure what’s sane, but I know a lot of what I’ve heard in the aftermath (of Newtown) is insane.”

High profile athletes placing themselves in the center of the gun control debate following Jovan Belcher’s murder/suicide was their right to freedom of speech. Bob Costas questioning athletes and their use of guns is Bob Costas’ right. Marshall Faulk, Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson offered a powerful statement when they decided to jump into the gun control debate with both feet Friday. Faulk, Irvin, Sander, Smith and Tomlinson have taken a tremendous risk in what they have done, what they did took courage and conviction. They stood up for what they believed in.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom