Monday, December 03, 2012

Further thoughts about Bob Costas

So here's the video of Bob Costas talking about guns in the aftermath of the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide. I shared my thoughts last night before having seen it, but knowing his main point.

The only thing I find surprising about Costas' speech that he gave it at all. But my surprise is linked not with disgust, but with admiration. I get that a lot of people are indignant that he did it. But here are some things to consider:

Costas had to address the issue. Many, many people argued that the magnitude of the shootings was so severe that the Chiefs-Panthers game shouldn't even have been played. Given that, it's awfully audacious to assume that Costas wouldn't have taken some time before a national audience to mention the tragedy. It's hard imagining anyone would object to that. And yet many did, perhaps because of how he did it. 

He said something substantial, which guarantees someone will hate it. He could have taken the easy route and said something to the effect of, "Our hearts and prayers are with the team and their affected families." But frankly, there's way too much of that already. It's such a default human emotion that it shouldn't even pass for commentary. But, so often, it does. And it does so because we, the public, have decided that we really don't want to hear anything that might ruffle our feathers — at least, not during our completely family-friendly and safe-as-milk episodes of sanctioned violence. Costas' real sin, then, was taking a stand when much of America wanted to sweep the elephant under the rug.

Speeches like these are a proud tradition in journalism. Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, to name just two of the most revered journalists of all time, both famously took stances when they felt it necessary and relevant. They didn't do it willy-nilly, but that only made it all the more biting when it happened. Generally, they did so when a problem was so out of control, that it made no sense not to address it. And when they did so, they brought with them decades of experience and expertise that ensured their opinions carried weight. Costas may not be Murrow or Cronkite — or even Howard Cosell, who integrated sports and true journalism like no other — but he is a respected sportscaster with decades under his belt and a continuing national presence. He is relevant enough to have people mad at him. 

If anything, Costas lowballed it. Much of his hardest-hitting points are nearly verbatim quotes from this Jason Whitlock article. Costas presented it almost as if to say, "Here is an interesting argument to ponder," which is an escape clause more than anything. I happen to think it's what he actually believes, based on what else I've known him to say (his point about perspective, for one, is very similar to what he said in a Playboy interview 12 years ago). But quoting Whitlock does allow him to say to critics, "Those were his words. I may or may not believe them, but I chose to bring them into the conversation." Which is actually quite journalistic.

If you don't like it, hell, ignore it. That's what I do, at least in situations like this. Having lived where I have, I learned long ago to ignore all the "we need harsher penalties" bluster that sprouts absolutely everywhere whenever something happens (as long as it doesn't entail reducing access to guns for white Republicans, that is). As long as someone isn't trying to enforce their beliefs upon others, I don't care. It's a waste of energy to get steamed over some opinion someone said on TV that has no real bearing on anything. So Bob Costas sort of said something critical about guns. OK. Why does that ruin your day? If Terry Bradshaw made the opposite argument at halftime, that wouldn't bother me. Which reminds me...

Costas didn't even argue for gun control. His speech was about how the gun caused the situation to escalate. As I said in my last blog, handguns are dangerous to have in a moment of fury in a way unique to virtually all other weapons. We could argue just as much that Costas was urging everyone to settle down and think twice before exercising poor impulse control — an absolutely true point that even gun owners should agree with. You could perhaps argue that what Costas said had a decided anti-gun bent, but you can't say that he advocated restricting guns or otherwise called for radical reform. That's a stretch. He didn't imply that, much less say it outright.

This wasn't about politics. Costas was just being human here. He, like so many of the rest of us, felt that he just had to say what he did. And so he did, despite the fallout he knew was coming, because he felt that the message was more important. Kudos to him. I hope more broadcasters feel ennobled to do so when appropriate, because that's what a vibrant press is supposed to do. Whether or not I agree.

(Hat tip to Mike B)

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