By Kevin Binversie | Wisconsin Reporter
NBC Sports anchor Bob Costas could have said so much following the murder-suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins, his 22-year-old girlfriend — could have observed that Belcher orphaned their three-month-old daughter, that his actions underscore the problem of domestic abuse in the National Football League, and raise questions about the NFL’s failure to address head injuries while growing itself into the nation’s most popular sport.
Instead, Costas used his 90-second halftime commentary during Sunday night’s Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys to talk about guns and gun control.
In doing so, he participated in a whitewash of more serious issues.
The National Football League has a long history of domestic abuse among players toward their spouses and girlfriends. It also has a history of drug and alcohol abuse, and anger-management problems with current and former players.
On top of it all, over 5,450 plaintiffs (nearly 4,000 of them current or ex-players) are suing the NFL in a federal class-action lawsuit alleging the league concealed evidence that blows to the head contributed to post-career medical ailments, mental degradation, dementia and suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
By dumping the Belcher murder-suicide on “guns,” Costas and others give the NFL an easy pass. The league is often seen as the only place in America where assault is legal. They also trivialize any league action to handle any mental health issues as players deal with the pressure of staying on 53-player rosters where the average career is three years.
How lax is the NFL’s mental health treatment? In a league where every team has at least three staff trainers, two doctors, and numerous nutrition, strength, conditioning, and injury-recovery experts at their beck and call, the league doesn’t require teams to have a psychiatrist or psychologist on staff. It was only after the sudden suicide of retired NFL all-pro Junior Seau in May that the NFL decided to set up a help line — an answering service — for its players and alumni in July.
In recent years, teams have set up mentor programs in which former NFL players act as life coaches for rookies and veterans. But many players don’t trust these “Player Engagement Directors.” Many players see them as nothing more than spies for the coaching staff.
Fans contribute to the pathology. When former quarterback Vince Young and offensive lineman Shawn Andrews each sought treatment for depression in 2008, both men were ridiculed by fans, sports talk-radio hosts, and on-the-field opponents.
By focusing on gun ownership, Costas and others have missed the target. Never was it clearer that guns don’t kill people — although I suppose of Belcher had jumped from a building Costas would have called for a ban on skyscrapers. In this case, it’s arguable that we’ll have to look at the man who pulled the trigger — and the forces that shaped him.
Veteran political blogger Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native. He served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous state Republican campaigns, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org