full court press

Giving the Jovan Belcher story its due

On the NFL pre-game shows, Bob Costas distinguished himself by using the KC tragedy to talk about gun control; James Brown did not
December 6, 2012

I long ago vowed not to watch the NFL pregame shows that are foisted on football fans for hours on end every Sunday, save for those exceptional circumstances. This past weekend was one of those times, in the wake of the murder-suicide committed by Kansas Chiefs player Jovan Belcher (he killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, the mother of his three-month-old daughter, before shooting himself), I was curious to see whether the shows would drop their usual hee-haw jock-ularity in favor of a thorough examination of the tragedy.

The verdict:

Fox NFL Sunday did a nice job with the story, abandoning its usual fraternity-hijinks-style presentation and delivering a somber, fact-filled show. The highlight came when Terry Bradshaw forcefully reminded viewers that the suddenly orphaned little girl is the person who should be on everyone’s mind, not the football hero.

CBS, on the other hand, turned in an abominable broadcast of The NFL Today. Astoundingly, the show didn’t open with the crime, choosing instead to talk football and the hosts’ sartorial splendor. Finally, after five long minutes, James Brown brought the fist-bumping and back-slapping to a halt with a ham-fisted transition for the ages, saying, “OK, fellas, a little switch here now.”


CBS did provide some coverage from KC, but then dumped the story (presented by 59-year-old Lesley Visser) to ensure its bottom-feeding viewers were rewarded with some eye candy—Victoria’s Secret model Lily Aldridge, on the set to display her football knowledge by picking games against the drooling group of ex-jocks. CBS annually shoves its synergistic tie-in with the underwear label down America’s throat, airing an entire fashion show and larding its entertainment with walk-ons from the models. No Debbie-Downer stuff from Kansas City was going to put a damper on the titillation, that’s for sure.

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ESPN went out of its way to keep Kasandra Perkins at the forefront of the story, airing an obit graphic for her alongside Belcher’s image throughout its coverage Sunday. But ESPN did sink to its usual habit of taking credit for information that others have reported. Somehow, Bristol football insiders Adam Schefter and Chris Mortenson broke every detail of the story, even though neither was in Kansas City. Such dishonesty in sourcing is commonplace for ESPN, sadly, and stains the network’s exemplary and creative work in other areas.

Lastly, there was NBC, which didn’t check in until Sunday night, but when it did, emeritus broadcaster Bob Costas made his considerable presence felt, slamming America’s gun culture and liberally reading from Jason Whitlock’s column about America’s suicidal love affair with weaponry. There was considerable blowback to Costas’s editorial (some would say jeremiad) for daring to interrupt something so holy as a football game between two sub-.500 teams, but regardless of where one stands on the issue of gun-control, Costas has certainly earned the right to give his opinion.

The short segment at halftime of the nationally televised Sunday night game is given to his commentary for precisely this reason, and for him not to weigh in when a story with so many pressing angles overlaps with football would have been far worse. Costas was universally lauded for defying the International Olympic Committee back in July by giving an on-air memorial on the 40th anniversary of the massacre of Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972. How would it look if he gave a pass to the Belcher story, or, worse, didn’t speak his mind? Kudos to the Peacock in both cases for not interfering.

Robert Weintraub is the author of The House That Ruth Built. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and Slate, and a television writer/producer based in Atlanta.