By Richard Neer
WFAN, New York
Talk Show Host
NEW YORK — I’d love to tell Bob Costas “I told you so” if he indeed had read my last column for TALKERS magazine advising sports talk hosts to steer clear of politics (read that here. if you missed it).
The firestorm was created when the NBC Sports host quoted a Jason Whitlock column for Fox Sports.com. It suggested that the tragedy surrounding Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend may not have occurred had Belcher not been armed.
The reaction was sadly predictable. No one dares offend the gun lobby in this country, other than New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a few other select pols in “safe” districts. Both presidential candidates danced around the subject during the debates. Make an enemy of the NRA and risk being voted out of office.
But as much as I’d like to chide Costas, it’s hard to take issue with what he said, since he really didn’t take a stand, radical or otherwise. He didn’t advocate overturning the Second Amendment. He didn’t suggest taking rifles away from hunters, or pistols from target shooters. The strongest comments he made were in castigating the “gun culture” in this country, a statement open to different interpretations.
Costas didn’t really walk back his remarks on the Dan Patrick show recently. He tried to clarify his position, admitting it was a mistake to try to tackle such a complex issue in 90 seconds, a valid point his detractors agree with.
But let’s talk about those detractors for a moment. Fire Bob Costas? Get serious.
Are we at such a point in our public discourse that anyone who takes a stand with which we disagree should lose his job? Can we not have a sane discussion about guns without evoking black helicopters and UN takeovers? (By the way, if the government sends a rocket armed drone your way, I doubt an automatic weapon would provide much protection.)
One critic opined that Costas had advocated stripping the populace of a constitutional right, the equivalent of suggesting that people of color not be allowed to vote.
This is when the listening public starts to not take us seriously. When we spout noise, rather than reason on controversial subjects, we descend to the level of snake oil salesmen. Anything for attention, no matter how ridiculous!
As my last TALKERS piece stated, stepping away from your role as a sportscaster will rile a portion of your audience, and we do so at the risk of our almighty ratings. But as a believer in free speech, I must applaud those who speak out on deeply held beliefs, even if I disagree with them. We’re not talking about some drug addled former rock star. Bob Costas is an extremely intelligent man, and it’s woefully closed-minded to dismiss him as someone who only knows about sports. Are we saying that a highly educated man can’t comment on something as serious as our gun culture when it involves an athlete who played a sport he covers – and, more tragically, the death of a 23-year-old woman?
To buy into that line of thinking is a direct refutation of what makes our country great…as one legendary host puts it…the free and open exchange of ideas.
Disagree all you want with the forum Costas chose. He has stipulated that mistake. God forbid we interrupt our pleasure at watching a violent sport with a reminder of some mayhem that really matters — two young people dead — and a baby orphaned just weeks after birth.
If a sensitively worded editorial on a serious topic creates the kind of mean-spirited backlash that we’ve seen since that tragic event, maybe there is little hope for us after all.
Richard Neer is a sports talk host at WFAN, New York and an anchor on A Touch of Grey. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.