Jovan Belcher Was a Horrifying Rorschach Test for Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs' player's murder/suicide revealed that the sports world isn't separate from the real world—no matter how much fans and media wish otherwise.

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Reuters / Dave Kaup

Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), and Patrick Hruby (writer, Sports on Earth and The Atlantic) discuss what happened after an NFL player killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins and then himself last Saturday.

There is no way to sum up the horrific, tragic murder-suicide by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher in a cliche or a 20-second soundbite. The issues of domestic violence in football, gun control in America, playing in an NFL game in a stadium where someone killed himself in the parking lot 30 hours beforehand—these are not Around The Horn issues. The tragedy occurred less than a week ago, and in my opinion (and I don't claim to speak for anyone else), the proper course of action as journalists should be to wait for all the facts to come out and respect the families of Belcher and slain girlfriend Kasandra Perkins before drawing any 30,000-foot conclusions about weighty issues like domestic violence, gun control, murder, and suicide.

Of course, that hasn't stopped some of sports media's biggest shills from offering their two cents on the topic. At halftime of the Cowboys-Eagles Sunday night game the day after the horrific events in Kansas City, NBC's Bob Costas lectured the media about its apparent (to him) tendency to only bring up sensitive issues after tragic events. "Those who need tragedies to continually recalibrate their sense of proportion about sports would seem to have little hope of ever truly achieving perspective," Costas intoned, before quoting liberally from a meandering column on Belcher by Jason Whitlock.

The comments spurred a backlash from sportswriters and fans alike. Many NBC viewers were turned off by Costas's editorializing at halftime of a football game, feeling it was the wrong forum. Deadspin's Sean Newell unleashed an anti-Costas rant entitled "Here Is Bob Costas's Sanctimonious, Horseshit Editorial On Jovan Belcher." Costas did have his defenders in the press, including Deadspin founding editor Will Leitch, who wrote at Sports On Earth that he was impressed with Costas's willingness to take an unpopular stand on a hot-button issue (essentially, guns are bad) on national television.

Me? I don't have a huge problem with what Costas did, despite my feeling that we should wait for more facts to come out before stating our opinions as journalists. As Leitch said, he's earned the right to say whatever he wants in his weekly 90-second life lessons during halftime of every Sunday Night football game. Also, I think he's right: Americans are more likely to escalate violent confrontations to a deadly level because of the preponderance of guns. And if you don't agree with Costas and cherish the 2nd Amendment above all others? Just change the channel next week, dude. Watch ESPN for a couple minutes or something. You'll turn back in time for the second half.

What about you guys? What's your response to the media's response to the Belcher tragedy?


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Sports Roundtable

Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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