Bob Costas clearly stepped outside the white lines with his Sunday Night Football plea for stricter gun control, and some in the stands are hooting and hollering.
But the problem isn’t that he called an audible by taking a political stand, risky as that is. It’s that he did a stutter-step and never made it to the end zone.
Ordinarily, my reaction to athletes, movie stars and rock stars popping off on politics is to hit the mute button. I mean, who cares what they think? And Costas is, after all, a guy who is famous for his mellifluous commentary on balls and strikes, touchdowns and field goals.
But he’s also been a serious, Olympics-level journalist for decades, and I’d say he’s earned the right to opine on the subject in the wake of the Kansas City Chiefs tragedy. The team played and won on Sunday, one day after linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend and then fatally shot himself at a practice facility.
If there was something more important for Costas to talk about, it doesn’t immediately come to mind.
Of course, as he must have anticipated, the NBC announcer is being savaged by conservatives and gun-control opponents for taking a stand. On Twitter, Ted Nugent says: “#Bob Costas has clearly lost his mind. Inanimate objects are the problem not murderers. Brilliant.”
“Bob Costas hijacks Sunday Night Football to give anti-gun lecture,” Michelle Malkin tweeted.
This is precisely the problem with a prominent figure moving from an entertainment field that cuts across partisan lines—in this case, sports—to a stormy political battlefield. Gun rights enthusiasts may have a hard time viewing Costas the same way on future sportscasts.
But having decided to walk through this minefield, Costas tiptoed by offering not his own assessment but that of someone else. He approvingly quoted Jason Whitlock, a longtime Kansas City sports columnist who now writes for Fox Sports:
“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 their 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.”
Costas may have believed that he left himself an out by not using his own words and not embracing any particular gun-control plan (although banning handguns is one of the more radical proposals). But if so, that’s fantasy football. Costas came down firmly in favor of gun control, and he’ll have to live with the consequences.