Bagels and Jocks: A Weekly Examination of the Jewish Sports World- Monday, December 10, 2012
What happens when the world of sports too closely reflects some of the biggest problems in society at large? How should the media report and comment on such events and what is the responsibility of broadcast journalists who find themselves in that position? As viewers and even as bloggers, are we becoming completely intolerant of opinions that differ from our own?
These were just a few of the questions that I have been thinking about this past week, after two separate tragedies struck the National Football League within an eight-day span. A week ago Saturday morning, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher fatally shot the 22-year-old mother (Kassandra Perkins) of his three-month-old daughter in front of the baby daughter and his own mother. He then drove to the team’s practice facility and talked to his head coach and general manager before walking a few feet away and taking away his own life.
This past weekend came more sad news: Early Sunday morning, Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad player Jerry Brown was killed in a one-car accident driven by his legally intoxicated teammate, Robert Brent. It was also widely reported that Brent, in 2009, was charged with driving with a suspended license and speeding while near an Illinois campus. He was also found to be driving under the influence in that incident.
The two incidents served as striking reminders that athletes are certainly not immune to the mistakes and tragedies that all of us are prone to. They also served to shake us from any sense that following sports is a foolproof form of escapism. Indeed, for decades, our sports pages, websites and electronic media are a mix of standings, statistics and strategy along with everything that encroaches upon it: contract negotiations and work stoppages, performance enhancing drug controversies and crimes—if not always of this magnitude.
The Belcher murder-suicide became the story related to the NFL, even as the games played on as usual—including a home game the next day for the Chiefs, most of whom had to still be traumatized from the previous day’s horrible events.
With that as a backdrop (and incidentally, the Chiefs had won their afternoon game, to improve to 2-10) NBC broadcast the Sunday Night Football Game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys. At halftime, studio host Bob Costas devoted his 90-second spot to comment on an aspect of the Belcher murder-suicide. His comments ended up causing a huge (no pun intended) firestorm.
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME…OPINION?
Costas, a well-respected sports journalist who seems to be equally at ease whether doing baseball play-by-play, hosting the Olympics or delivering some aspect of commentary, used most of his time to quote from a column written by FOX Sports online (and Kansas City-based journalist) Jason Whitlock, who is no stranger to offering very strong, often controversial, comments.
The text of Costas’ commentary (courtesy of nationalpost.com) is as follows:
Well, you knew it was coming. In the aftermath of the nearly unfathomable events in Kansas City, that most mindless of sports clichés was heard yet again: Something like this really puts it all in perspective. Well, if so, that sort of perspective has a very short shelf-life since we will inevitably hear about the perspective we have supposedly again regained the next time ugly reality intrudes upon our games. Please, those who need tragedies to continually recalibrate their sense of proportion about sports would seem to have little hope of ever truly achieving perspective. You want some actual perspective on this? Well, a bit of it comes from the Kansas City-based writer Jason Whitlock with whom I do not always agree, but who today said it so well that we may as well just quote or paraphrase from the end of his article.
“Our current gun culture,”Whitlock wrote, “ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy and that more convenience-store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead.”
“Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it. In the coming days, Jovan Belcher’s actions, and their possible connection to football will be analyzed. Who knows?”
“But here,” wrote Jason Whitlock,” is what I believe. If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.”…
Interestingly, Costas quoted heavily from Whitlock’s piece that was originally written the night before the telecast. While he agreed with the columnist’s words, the headline of Whitlock’s foxsports.com piece was “In KC, it’s no time for a game.” You may read the entire column here. Costas did not bring up any portions of the column that were critical of the NFL for continuing to play the game as usual.
Much of the reaction to Costas’ commentary was swift and angry, with many expressing…sometimes in scathing invective…that the veteran broadcaster had no right to mix his own political agenda into a football telecast, with some calling for him to be fired for doing so. Perhaps, the reaction was predictable—although that doesn’t either ratify or invalidate the concerns.
I will try to encapsulate some of my opinions on this issue, without getting into the specifics of “gun culture”, “gun control” and Second Amendment rights—at least not, per se. Reasonable people can and do disagree on these issues, often with great passion. Here are a few discussion points that came up from Costas-gate and my quick responses. and yes, this deserves much more time.
Did Costas have the right to offer his commentary and inject his “own personal agenda” into a football telecast? In a word, “yes.” He was not the play-by-play or color man, and it was halftime. Halftime of Sunday Night Football is often a potpourri of an Xs-and-Os dissection of the first half, and highlights from the afternoon games. There is also room for commentary; it had been offered before on other issues and it will be again. The Belcher murder-suicide was the proverbial elephant in the room, and I’m not sure that he could have or should have avoided it.
But, why were viewers subjected to his own personal agenda? Prior to his commentary, I had never heard Costas identified with “gun control/culture”. He’s not running for political office nor has he used his platform on Sunday Night Football (and I haven’t heard all of his halftime rants) to advocate for specific politicians. That would be inappropriate. He was offering his take on an aspect of the murder-suicide.
Why was it about Second Amendment limitations, and not about other aspects of this? Why did he implicitly go after those who legally own guns? That’s a better question, which I haven’t really seen phrased as such. I won’t pretend to be an expert on the Second Amendment, and exactly what rights it guarantees. There are definitely complexities here, and usually we don’t hear much intelligent discussion about effective ways to reduce the insane amount of homicides in this country (not all from handguns, of course). Did a gun play a role in this? Yes, but there were many other aspects of this that he could have touched upon—whether domestic abuse or possible effects of concussions or other head trauma (although somewhat speculative here). Many have pointed out that Belcher may very well have killed the mother of his daughter, even without a gun. That may be true; there is no way to know for sure.
Don’t people have the right to criticize Costas? Yes, absolutely. I just think that it’s misguided to criticize his right to offer commentary in that forum, but if anyone feels strongly that Costas’ opinion was off-base, then they should voice it.
Was Costas courageous in “going there” on a hot-button issue like this? No, not particularly, although the huge backlash he received almost makes it seem so. It would have been courageous for him to take on the NFL’s decision to play the game in Kansas City, Of course, if he didn’t feel that way, then what would be the point? But that would have taken some courage. I’m almost not all that impressed that—agree or disagree with the opinion—he used someone else’s words as the centerpiece of his commentary.
So, shouldn’t he be fired? Suspended?
Here’s where the backlash got ridiculous—although some of the attacks got even more ludicrous from there. Costas had the right to use his time to comment on what was the biggest story in the NFL that evening. Viewers had every right to disagree with him, and to voice it. But, what did he say that was the least bit inappropriate or offensive. I’m convinced that 99% of the people who were bellowing that he should be fired for pushing his own political agenda and mixing politics with football simply were, and are, intolerant of another point of view. If Costas were to start with the same statement about this senseless tragedy and then go on to say that this was NOT about gun culture or gun control, 99% of those same “up in arms” critics would not have objected at all.
Now, he may have gotten some flak from the other side, although I don’t think that the other side (pertaining to gun control) is as organized, passionate or intractable.
YOUK TO THE YANKS?
It is rare that any Major League Baseball player, even a Hall of Famer, plays his entire baseball career with only one team. For every Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken or Mike Schmidt (and perhaps, Derek Jeter) who does so, there are four of five (including such greats as Hank Aaron, Greg Maddux and Albert Pujols) who performed for multiple employers.
With that as a backdrop, how unusual is it that longtime Boston Red Sox KEVIN YOUKILIS is mulling over an offer to play for the once-dreaded…from his perspective… Yankees? In Youk’s case, he has been a terrific player who has won a Gold Glove, a couple championships and played in a few All-Star games, but he is not a Hall of Famer. Still, he was a Fenway fan favorite for years and a one-team ballplayer until his midseason 2012 trade to the Chicago White Sox. How can a prominent Red Sock become a Yankee? Despite their rabid rivalry, some tremendous players have played in New York after starring for Boston. Luis Tiant, Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs and Johnny Damon come to mind. And there was also that guy who wore Number 3, George Herman whatsisname.
Will Youk follow suit and accept a one-year offer to don the black pinstripes? As I write, he has not yet made that decision. It won’t quite feel right if he does, but the suspicion is that the game will still go on and the patrons of Yankee Stadium will have no problem embracing one of their former rivals.
DR. JONATHAN HALPERT may not be a household name, but he is among the best collegiate basketball coaches in the New York City area. Last Thursday, the head coach of the Yeshiva University Maccabees became only the seventh coach in New York City history to achieve that plateau.
According to the website of the Skyline Athletic Conference, the six coaches with more victories than Halpert are: Lou Carnesecca, St. John’s – 526 victories; Howard Cann, New York University – 429; Joe Nesci, New York University – 424; Nat Holman, City College of New York – 423; Ray Rankis, Baruch – 419; and Claire Bee, Rider/LIU Brooklyn with 412.
Dr. Halpert has coached the team for 41 years, which is believed to be the fourth longest active tenure among all the coaches of all divisions of the NCAA. His connection to Yeshiva actually goes back to his high school days; he has also earned a Bachelor’s degree and a PHD there.
It does seem rather appropriate timing that the coach of the Maccabees would achieve this milestone right before Chanukah.…
On that note of hoops relativity, it is time to sign off from today’s edition of Bagels and Jocks. See you next Monday right here. Please feel free to share some dialogue below. If you would like to bring another Jewish athlete, mover-and-shaker (or issue) to my attention, please reply below or contact me by e-mail.
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About the Author: An author, speaker and custom writer from Cherry Hill, NJ, Matt loves to entertain people through his writing and public speaking. Laughs, Smiles and just enough Wisdom reach his audience through the magic of his written and spoken words. More about Matthew