Giants Wide Receiver Victor Cruz paid tribute to Jack Pinto, a fan and victim of the Sandy Hook massacre. (Credit: @teamvic)
After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the NFL and its players made an effort on Sunday to recognize the collective grief shaking the country. There was a moment of silence at all fourteen NFL games in remembrance of the twenty-six people, including twenty children, mercilessly gunned down. Players on the New York Giants wore decals with the school’s initials on their helmets. Their star wide receiver Victor Cruz paid tribute to one of the fallen children, writing “R.I.P. Jack Pinto,” and “Jack Pinto, my hero” on his shoes and “This one is 4 u!” on the backs of his gloves. Cruz was Pinto’s favorite player and 6-year-old Jack will be buried in his Victor Cruz jersey. The New England Patriots also made a statement, wearing a helmet sticker with the Newtown city seal and a black ribbon. They in addition pledged to donate $25,000 to help each family affected by the tragedy. But it’s what the Patriots didn’t do that speaks volumes and perhaps says more than they intended. Normally after the team scores at home, their “end zone militia”, dressed as revolutionary war soldiers, shoots twenty muskets in the air. There were no guns fired, thankfully, on Sunday night.
The NFL’s intervention into this national tragedy as a voice against gun violence comes at an awkward time for the league. Just two weeks ago, Kansas City Chief’s player Jovan Belcher shot and killed the mother of his 2-month-old child, Kasandra Perkins before taking his own life. Belcher had an arsenal of weapons in his house, all of them—like the guns used in Newtown—legally purchased. When NBC broadcaster Bob Costas, the day after the Belcher murder/suicide, said that easy access to military-proficient guns combined with our glorified “gun culture” played a central role in this tragedy, he was derided by the Fox News crowd as a fool. Now he looks horribly prescient.
But, as we try to understand the numbing regularity of these mass shootings, there is also a question that goes beyond just gun control and mental health. Should our culture, and in particular the violence of the sports we consume, shoulder some of the blame? It’s an increasingly recognized fact that our most popular sport, football, is also our most violent. Every new study reveals that on Sundays we are watching people become mentally and physically crippled for our entertainment. In addition to the violence between the lines, this is a league that drapes itself in the trappings of war, from military flyovers before games to the constant slickly produced recruitment ads for the US armed forces.