When Bob Costas did his usual halftime act Sunday Night, I asked people at SB Nation to grab the video for a post in the morning. I didn't actually see what he said, I just imagined it would be the same ponderous rambling we get every week, and it had been a while since we had fun with Bob Costas, America's Conscience.
Then I saw the video the next morning, and I don't know, I was kind of impressed.
I defended him, saying, "he use[d] the platform to quote from a poignant column and start an important conversation in the face of a tragedy that's left the bulk of us speechless. ... You don't have to agree with what Costas said or the way he said it, but at a time when hundreds of well-paid pundits have made an art of saying nothing, we should respect him for saying it. Right?"
WRONG, according to a shocking number of people. There's been insane Costas backlash all week. Like this, from an NRA e-mail hat went out on Monday.
If you'd like to read the rest of that "Special Alert", you can check it out here. Costas has become a prism for everyone to confirm beliefs they've had all along. If you support gun control, you support Costas' right to express his opinion. If you support gun rights, you don't want people "politicizing halftime." Nobody's actually talking about the issue itself, we're all just talking about Bob Costas.
The backlash led to a mini-media blitz for Costas as he tries to clarify what he said and generally defend himself against people like the Executive Director of the NRA.
Here's Costas on the Dan Patrick Show Tuesday:
"Sometimes the quality of those who oppose you speaks for itself. I was told — I didn't see it — that someone compared (the halftime segment) to blatantly racist comments. This is simply a case of people who don't agree with this or they don't agree with what people think I was saying. Leave me out of it. Can you imagine that being said about anyone? Let's fire everyone we disagree with. It's absurd."
He's dead-on there, but more notable than Costas' defense was Dan Patrick later in the show, who defended the decision to give Costas airtime.
You should just skip past this whole monologue, but it's here if you're curious.
Here's the thing you should understand, and I hope you understand if you've been listening to this show for years now. I've had people on that I don't necessarily like or agree with. But I had Bob on to explain what he was doing, why he was doing it. That's all. It doesn't mean I agree with what he's saying or disagree. This is not the place to have a referendum, a forum on gun control, the Second Amendment or domestic violence. This is more about sports, halftime, trying to connect guns, domestic violence, a football player, and do it in a minute and twenty seconds. Bob made the mistake in my opinion of quoting Jason Whitlock. The words come out of Bob's mouth and we're not sure who's saying something. And I thought it was a little heavy-handed at the end of the commentary. But I got great respect for the guy. Great respect. I don't always agree with him, but that's the beauty of it. You don't always agree with me. But you're still listening. You trust who I am, and why I'm gonna have somebody on. It's not to be heavy-handed. You know the fact that FOX is saying, fire him--what if Bob said 'Hey, I'm all for bearing arms, I'm all for the second amendment.' Would they be saying he should be fired because he used that platform at the halftime of a football game? NO. But I would still have Bob on to talk about that. So be fair in whatever your agenda is. My agenda is to bring you the right people at the right time and hopefully ask the right questions, that's it. I'm not here to put my politics on you, religion... It's a sports a show. Sometimes we color outside the lines, and I think we do it better than anybody else. And I hope you trust me with that.
The length of that explanation is a good example of what's wrong with everything. Dan Patrick can't risk losing half his fans, so instead we get a long-winded mea culpa from a radio host defending his decision to discuss a controversial issue even tangentially, while carefully stressing that he neither agrees nor disagrees.
What the hell is wrong with people?
How has this become so controversial that we're apologizing for speaking to Bob Costas? We're actually wondering whether Costas should be fired? Do we have to try this hard to NOT have a conversation that could be relevant?
Here's what we've seen: Jovan Belcher killing his girlfriend and then himself ---> Bob Costas quoting an article that said easy access guns made it easier for him to do it in the heat of the moment ---> The NRA blasting Costas for saying this during a football game ---> Costas defending himself ---> arguments over whether Bob Costas should be fired.
If Costas had just spent his 90 seconds praising Brady Quinn's courage on Sunday, nobody would've said a goddamn thing.
Soon, the Belcher story will be replaced on the sports page, and the opportunity to have a productive, all-inclusive conversation will be gone. Even now it's hard. The information on his possible head injuries is murky, the toxicology report from Saturday morning won't be out for another few weeks, and we don't really know much about Jovan Belcher. So while we think about this, the guns he owned and used are one of the only aspects of the situation that we can actually talk about without speculating ourselves to death. Instead, we're having a referendum on what's appropriate for halftime shows.
Sports resonate for a lot of reasons, but they are almost never important in a cultural context. The rare exceptions come with watershed moments that everyone processes at once. How we celebrate someone like Jeremy Lin, how we villify someone like LeBron James, how we slowly begin to see the NFL in a different light, like a slow boil. The reactions are telling, and it's the one time when the sportswriter cliches about sports teaching us about life are actually true. These stories may be "politicized", but only in the sense that politics force people to confront complex issues in the real world, not the Eagles game.
And so this week's reaction to Jovan Belcher--and the Passionate Bob Costas Debate that engulfed the discussion--has its own depressing lessons. Draw your own conclusions, but chances are you already have.