Bob Costas, freedom of speech, the gun debate

Bob Costas is a hero. Bob Costas is a hero because he has used the leverage he has as America’s pre-eminent sports journalist to foster debate regarding the right American’s have to bear arms.

The debate began after Jovan Belcher killed himself and after he murdered 22 year old Kasandra Perkins Saturday. At the time of his suicide Belcher was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, an active NFL player murdering a young woman and subsequent suicide in front of his NFL coach and an NFL general manager turned a sports story, into a national story into an important national debate – Bob Costas has played the defining role in raising the issue of the right to bear arms. Costas first spoke about America and gun control during NBC’s Sunday Night Football’s halftime show, which each week includes a Costas commentary.

“Where some people may have misunderstood my comments was I took one aspect of it, as expressed by a writer, whom I quoted verbatim. I took one aspect of it. I do not think this is the only aspect or possible aspect. There’s clearly a domestic violence aspect. There’s clearly the question, as I alluded to in a general way, of what effect playing football–which we know has debilitating effects, mind and body, at least for some–what effect that might have had. What effect alcohol and drugs might have had. And another aspect of that is easy access to guns and a gun culture. And it was that aspect–the gun culture–that I focused on. Not to the exclusion of the others but just because I didn’t have all that much time.”

Sunday evening moments after Costas made his comments former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain accused Costas on Twitter of “spewing sanctimonious dreck,” while pro-Second Amendment rock musician Ted Nugent sent multiple tweets basically telling Costas to “get a clue.” Monday, Mike Huckabee former Arkansas Governor used his radio show, rewriting what Costas said Sunday night. Huckabee said, “Costas went on for several minutes basically trying to make the case for gun control, saying that if we’d only had handgun control then this crime would have never happened.”

Huckabee, Cain and Nugent all used their first amendment rights to criticize Bob Costas for using his first amendment rights - the right every American has to freedom of speech.
Huckabee, Cain and Nugent are the tip of the right wing conservative talking heads who are not only upset Costas used Sunday Night Football as his bully pulpit, but are calling for NBC to fire Bob Costas (Fox’s cable news network). Speaking on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Costas continued to exercise his right to free speech.

“What I was talking about here, and I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear to everyone, was a gun culture. I never mentioned the Second Amendment, I never used the words gun control. People inferred that. Now, do I believe that we need more comprehensive and more sensible gun control legislation? Yes I do. That doesn’t mean repeal the Second Amendment. That doesn’t mean a prohibition on someone having a gun to protect their home and their family. It means sensible and more comprehensive gun control legislation. But even if you had that, you would still have the problem of what Jason Whitlock wrote about, and what I agree with. And that is a gun culture in this country.

“It demonstrates itself in different ways. It demonstrates itself in the Wild West, Dirty Harry mentality of people who actually believe that if a number of people were armed in the theater in Aurora, they would have been able to take down this nutjob in body armor and military style artillery. When in fact almost every policeman in the country would tell you that that would have only increased the tragedy and added to the carnage.”

Costas has been heroic in his stance for many reasons – including finally creating a debate around professional athletes and their ability to own, carry and use guns.

“Give me one example of an athlete–I know it’s happened in society–but give me one example of a professional athlete who by virtue of his having a gun, took a dangerous situation and turned it around for the better. I can’t think of a single one. But sadly, I can think of dozens where by virtue of having a gun, a professional athlete wound up in a tragic situation.

“I defy anyone to give me one example when an athlete having a gun averted trouble, defused a situation, protected someone from harm. But we can think of countless situations where an athlete having a gun led to tragedy.” Costas added.

Several current National Football League players have offered their comments on owning guns.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison is gun collector. Harrison in a 2011 Men’s Journal magazine feature expressed his right to free speech in posing bear chested with two hand guns. Harrison told the USA Today, people kill people.

"It's a big issue as far as what happened and everything, it's a sad story,'' Harrison told USA TODAY Sports. "But the fact of it being part of the guns … They want to say it's guns and all this other stuff. It's ridiculous. He did it. And he alone is responsible for it. It has nothing to do with the guns.

"Somebody goes out and kills somebody with a knife, you going to blame the knife? Somebody goes out and kills somebody by pushing somebody in front of a train, you going to start cutting off the guy's arms? You going to start blaming people's arms now? It's the person who did it who is responsible.''

Harrison took exception to the suggestion athletes and guns are any different from anyone else in America and how they might use guns.

"If you go and say, 'Alright, now we're going to take guns away from everybody, and the only person who is going to have guns are the police ... if that was a good thing and that's actually how it would go, then that would work.

"But the two people who are going to have the guns then are the police and the criminals. So now I know I can break into every house in the country that doesn't have a gun in it because they're no longer allowed to carry handguns. That's not going to solve things. It's only going to cause more problems.''

Four years ago, Plaxico Burress on November 28, 2008, suffered an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound to the right thigh in the New York City nightclub LQ when his Glock pistol, tucked in the waistband of his sweatpants, began sliding down his leg; apparently in reaching for the gun he inadvertently depressed the trigger, causing the gun to fire. As a direct result of the gun related incident Burress was indicted on two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, and a single count of reckless endangerment in the second degree, both felonies. On August 20, 2009, Burress accepted a plea deal that would put him in prison for two years with an additional two years of supervised release. On June 6, 2011, Burress was released from a protective custody unit of the Oneida Correctional Facility in Rome, New York.

Burress returned to the NFL last year playing with the New York Jets. Unemployed throughout for most of the 2012 season Burress signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks ago. Guns and professional athletes, guns and an active National Football League player – cost Plaxico Burress two years of his NFL career and likely close to $10 million.

"It will (be a topic) for a little while. But over time something else will happen, and we'll be having the same discussion then," Burress told USA TODAY Sports by phone this week.

"Things like this happen to people every day. It just happened to be Jovan, somebody that we knew. That's why we're having this discussion. But it goes on in society all the time."

He added: "It's not really the culture of the NFL; it's about what's going on in society today."

Burress is right in suggesting it’s more about what is going on in the world we live in, a by-product of life in the United States of America in 2012, a sad testament on American life.

Thursday night on "Costas Tonight," his talk show on the NBC Sports Network, in a show taped Tuesday in New York, Bob Costas again uses the platform he has been afforded as an award winning journalist to talk about guns in America and what he said on Sunday Night Football.

"Domestic violence is part of it," Mr. Costas said. "Drugs and alcohol could be part of it. And I didn't say anything specifically about gun-control legislation or the Second Amendment. I don't want to repeal the Second Amendment. I think we should have responsible gun control, but that wouldn't prohibit somebody from carrying a gun."

Bob Costas owes no one an apology for what he said Sunday night. If anyone is owed an apology it’s those who seek to take away Bob Costas’ first amendment rights for creating the debate, the discussion he has about guns in America. Sadly people do kill people, but it’s the guns in the hands of those people that are getting thousands of Americans killed every year.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom