When Kansas City Chiefs Jovan Belcher killed the mother of his child Kasandra Perkins and then committed suicide in front of his coach on Saturday, most of Sunday’s NFL coverage avoided direct commentary. Bob Costas did not. The veteran NBC sports broadcaster used ninety seconds at halftime of NBC’s top rated Sunday Night Football program to talk about “perspective” and, quoting a column by Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock, the problems with the “gun culture” in the United States. This ignited the fury of right-wingers, some of whom have called for his job. Then after appearances on The Dan Patrick Show and The O’Reilly Factor, there are now liberals who believe Costas is backtracking from his earlier remarks. I spoke to Bob Costas this morning to set the record straight.
Dave Zirin: Do you have any regrets about your halftime commentary?
Bob Costas: Only that in this instance I had even less time than I usually do and it’s a complex issue that definitely involves domestic violence, possibly involves the football culture, possibly involves drugs and alcohol, and also obviously involves guns. I’m mystified by those who say that pointing out that the easy access to handguns and the existence of a gun culture makes tragedies like this more likely, somehow means you are shifting the blame from Jovan Belcher to the gun. That’s crazy. Belcher is 100 percent responsible and I have said that I was appalled that in the early stages of coverage of this tragedy many played it as if there were two victims and Belcher was one of them. No. He is the perpetrator and nothing diminishes that. But his having the gun made it more likely that something like this would occur. The fact that I didn’t have enough time to cite all of these factors—from the culture of football to Belcher’s personal responsibility—allows some people to claim that I was saying guns are the only issue. I emphatically do not think that. If I’d had even forty-five seconds to a minute more, I could have dotted more I’s and crossed more Ts.
What many are saying is that it “wasn’t the right forum” for this discussion. Do you feel it was the right forum?
I’d say close to 100 percent of those who feel that way do so simply because they disagree and didn’t want to hear the particular thing I had to say. If I said something they agreed with, then they wouldn’t have any problems. All day, with varying degrees of insight, all four networks that carried football covered this story at some length. The preceding five minutes on our air was on this story and this story only. The only time anyone seems to think that was inappropriate was when I pushed this particular hot button. I would point out the obvious: that it was halftime. Not a single play was missed. Had this murder suicide not involved an NFL player, then it would not have been an appropriate topic for any of us to discuss in a football broadcast. But since it did, it became an appropriate topic. Look at it this way: I felt it was appropriate for me to discuss the Munich massacre of Israeli athletes in 1972 during the Olympic opening ceremonies. There was an issue there about the IOC’s refusal to officially recognize the fortieth anniversary. Therefore whether other broadcasters would have done it or not, I felt athat I should. On the other hand, if I had brought it up on the air in a different context, it would have made no sense and would have been inappropriate. If next week out of the blue, I start talking about gays in sports at halftime of the football game, that’s inappropriate even if the comments are insightful. But if and when an NFL player comes out as gay, then there is a story there that provides a jumping-off point. Then it would be entirely appropriate.