Just after shooting Kasandra Perkins, 22, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, 25, knelt over his longtime girlfriend’s lifeless body and kissed her on the forehead. Belcher’s mother witnessed this conflicted goodbye in the couple’s master bathroom before her son kissed his 3-month-old daughter for the final time and fled his home in the early morning of Dec. 1, according to police reports.
Belcher, a four-year NFL veteran who was signed by Kansas City as an undrafted prospect out of Maine, then drove five miles to the Chiefs nearby practice facility, where he would encounter team personnel in the parking lot. Reports then claim Belcher held a gun to his head as several team officials, including Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli, pleaded with him to put down the weapon.
“Guys, I have to do this,” he reportedly told them.
Belcher walked away from the group, knelt down behind a nearby vehicle and shot himself once in the head. He died at the scene, according to police.
Fast forward less than 48 hours after the incident. Reports swirled about this little-known player’s background, as police tried to answer questions and the Kansas City community was forced to cope with the horrific details.
The country and the sports world remained in shock over this tragic and inconceivable murder-suicide, but Bob Costas, veteran sportscaster and part of the Sunday Night Football crew on NBC, was about to adjust the national conversation.
Costas started his weekly commentary on “Football Night in America,” by lamenting the cliched reaction to such tragedy in the media world. But then, he changed his tone altogether. Have a look for yourself:
Let’s repeat that last line of Costas’ paraphrasing of Whitlock in case you missed it: “What I believe is, if he didn’t possess/own a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.”
At its very core, Costas’ statements are simply lazy. It’s easy to leap carelessly into the middle of this tragedy and lob forward the anti-gun grenade. It’s become commonplace in our society. Media types like Costas seem to believe viewers are seeking affirmation instead of information in times of crisis.
What’s lost in Costas’ retelling of Whitlock’s explosive declarations is quite simply real, fact-based perspective. To make such a sweeping statement about the use of guns in a crime of this nature is to remove some of the personal responsibility from the criminal. The gun that Jovan Belcher used to commit his murder could not logically be paramount to the reasons he did it, unless there is evidence that reflects the existence of a gun in his home propelled his violent acts. I can assure you, no such evidence exists in this case. The reality remains that guns, knives, sharp objects, vehicles and physical violence are all tools that can be used to commit murder or, on the other hand, defend oneself from that violence.
As such, the question here seems to be the net effect of firearms. Anti-gun proponents will tout research that shows that family and intimate partner assaults involving firearms are 12 times more likely to result in death than those that do not involve firearms. But that doesn’t take into account how many of these incidents are prevented by the presence of a gun in the supposed victim’s hands. Over the last 20 years, the number of gun owners and carry permits in the U.S. have skyrocketed and murder rates have consistently fallen. Costas surely didn’t consider any of these facts before the teleprompter started to roll.
Fact is, handguns did not cause this tragedy, and erasing them from existence would not have put Belcher back on the field on Sunday, or Perkins at home with her child.
But what’s more troubling than the message that Costas delivered is who supported it.
Let’s be clear, Costas isn’t a one-man band. He works with and for a host of editors, directors, producers, executives, and in some ways, advertisers that support the media company NBCUniversal, a joint venture between Comcast and General Electric formed in 2011. To my knowledge, his comments were not decried beforehand by his colleagues at the network, and they certainly have not been damned after the fact by advertisers and supporters of the broadcast.
When another NBC show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” was embroiled in a controversy after Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump legally went hunting in Africa, advertisers quickly responded to the public outrage by pulling their ads from the program and expressing disgust. No such luck after Costas’ rant, even though the public outcry has been pretty substantial.
Bottom line: As a journalistic organization, Costas and NBC should be ashamed. The exploration into how Belcher’s rage and anger grew into murder should not be fodder for a football halftime show only hours after the shots were fired. Nor should they ever be.
Somehow, Costas and his cohorts have managed to shift the focus in one fell swoop, and we must shift it back to Jovan Belcher, and the questions that still need answered.