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Costas put spotlight on guns, and spotlight was put on him

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FILE - This Nov. 17, 2010 file photo shows sports commentator Bob Costas at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights 2010 Ripple of Hope Awards Dinner at Pier Sixty in New York. Costas' “Sunday Night Football” halftime commentary supporting gun control sparked a Fox News Channel debate Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, on whether NBC should fire him. The NBC sportscaster, who frequently delivers commentary at halftime of the weekly NFL showcase, addressed the weekend's murder-suicide involving Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini, file)

By BILL CARTER

New York Times News Service

First published Dec 03 2012 10:11PM
Updated Dec 3, 2012 11:17PM

Bob Costas recognized that he was likely to be walking into a minefield with his commentary during halftime of the Sunday night National Football League game on NBC. Prompted by the horror of a murder-suicide carried out the day before by a Kansas City Chiefs football player, Costas quoted approvingly, and extensively, from a sports column that decried Americans’ easy access to guns.

But Costas says he has been given the freedom by NBC to editorialize on subjects related to football and sports — views that the network neither specifically endorses nor opposes. And he was convinced, he said in a telephone interview on Monday, that "it was likely that these two people would not be dead" if there hadn’t been a gun available that made it easy to take a life in a moment of anger.

After a flight overnight Sunday back from Dallas, where the Cowboys hosted the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night, Costas said he woke to "a zillion text messages and phone messages" about his commentary. Most of them were supportive, he said, but there was also a torrent of harshly critical comments from defenders of gun ownership, whether online or on TV shows like "Fox and Friends" on the Fox News Network. Some of those critics called for NBC to fire him.

In the Monday interview, Costas said, "I am emphatically not backing off from anything I said." But he noted that in the commentary he had quoted from a column posted on the website of Fox Sports by the writer Jason Whitlock. Since he was not able to reach Whitlock before going on the air on Sunday, Costas said he did not feel it proper to edit or add extensively to those comments.

What he sought to do in his comments the day after, Costas said, was not to clarify his remarks but to expand on them. Chiefly, he said, he wanted to emphasize that "I do not think the Second Amendment should be repealed and I do not think, under reasonable circumstances, that people should be prohibited from having guns."

But he said, "I think most reasonable people think we do not have sufficient controls on the availability of guns and ammunition."

He called for "a combination of enlightened legislation and controls, coupled with an adjustment in our attitude toward guns." He added, "Common sense tells us the culture is overrun by guns and that many people who possess them are dangerous or careless."

Many of the harshest reactions to Costas’ comments charged that it was inappropriate to use the platform of an NFL telecast to make arguments concerning a hot-button issue like gun control.

Costas noted in response that NFL coverage on many networks had talked about the incident all day on Sunday. Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the Chiefs, killed Kasandra Perkins, the mother of their 3-month-old daughter, Zoey, and then drove to his team’s stadium, where he killed himself in front of his coach and general manager.

Costas added that he had routinely used his time during halftime coverage to make personal observations and comments on a number of football-related subjects, including the level of violence displayed on the field.

He said the criticisms of his commentary "hold no weight with me" because the same people saying that that was an inappropriate time and place to talk about the gun issue "would have thought it was fine if they agreed with what I was saying."

The issue of guns has come up far too often in sports already, he said, with athletes seeming to be among the groups with the most gun owners. "Do you think the place guns have in sports is appropriate?" Costas asked. "That it’s healthy?"

He added: "I defy anyone to give me one example when an athlete having a gun averted trouble, defused a situation, protected someone from harm. But we can think of countless situations where an athlete having a gun led to tragedy."

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