Dear Mr. Costas,
In most cases, 'open letters' come off holier-than-thou, preachy, and downright snarky. Indeed, they are usually meant to encourage banter and thought amongst the readers, often more so than the subject…In fact, I wonder if any subjects of an open letter ever take the time read them at all! In this case, however, I feel that this is a wholly appropriate forum to speak my mind a bit. Here, you and I are surrounded by our Orange family, under the protection of our pride in one of America's great schools and sports legacies. My points of concern and discussion are staying in-house, per se.
If you’ll permit the time, I’d love to introduce myself. My name is James. I grew up not too far from the Dome in Binghamton, NY. I love sports and radio and television. It didn’t take long for me to realize, as a kid, that I wanted to be a Sports Commentator. I ate and drank sports coverage whenever I could. In 1992, my 11-year-old-self recorded all the Prime Time coverage from the Barcelona Olympics to watch the next day (after all, 9pm was my bedtime). As most will recall, just like today, you were the host of it all. As fun as the events themselves were, I also looked forward to your nightly profiles on lesser-known athletes and the amazing human-interest stories surrounding them. I admired how you were able to vividly marry sports with culture. These moments validated, in my heart, that sports are much more than an exercise in escapism; they are a concentrated and honest reflection of our American values as we experience them on a daily basis.
Needless to say, you were a big influence in cultivating my goal to not only get into media as a profession, but also to earn acceptance into Syracuse…20 years later, I still live in Binghamton. No worries, I didn’t give up a dream, just changed it a bit. I did get accepted into Newhouse. After that, it turned out I loved being behind the camera and computer as much as I loved performance. Nowadays I have a quaint life in my hometown doing video editing and graphics design, and find myself very fulfilled by it.
I go through the trouble of saying all these things because I find it quite amazing that you and I have such divergent levels of success and notoriety in our professional lives…yet when I look up at the wall of my office, I see the same degree you see on your wall. It’s creates an amazing sense of pride, knowing that so many greats in media are part of the same Orange tradition as I am. In my small part of the world, I’m called to the same stewardship all our alumni are. That Newhouse diploma stirs a great sense of respect for, and responsibly to, the integrity required to aptly and civilly use our greatest civil liberty: The ability to communicate our thoughts in public.
In no way am I’m claiming to be a great example in the proper exercise of free speech. Pardon my ‘French’, but I’ve said a LOT of stupid shit on Facebook, as well as dumb-ass comments in workplace meetings. I’ve gone on mis-guided rants on blogs, and borderline-bigoted blurts at bars. That’s ok, because nobody cares what I say. I can drop pearls of idiocy under the cloak of a litany of avatars and screen names. Honestly, until now, I can’t recall the last time I publically published anything on a subject of substance.
However, I feel behooved, as a brethren Orangeman, to write you and voice my concerns about your comments on Sunday Night Football on December 2. For the sake of space and time, I won’t regurgitate the specifics of that weekend. You know what happened, you know what was said, and you know what was said about what was said. If anyone reading this is living under a rock and doesn’t know, just google ‘Javon Belcher’ and ‘Bob Costas.’
Sir, I appreciate your desire to want to break out of the ‘sports only’ mold and be a purveyor of social conscience. Would that we all want to be a bit more substantive than the screaming heads on whatever pick-your-political-slant news network. Though, in this case, there were some facets about your monologue that turned me off quite a bit. Surprisingly, considering I’m a fairly Conservative pro-2nd Amendment person, almost none of what bothered me was topical.
Credit where it’s due, some of your observations on gun ‘culture’, in this specific tragedy, have turned out to be on the correct scent. But, and this is the big ‘BUT,’ we didn’t know that at halftime on Sunday. What we did know was a man, presumably distraught and possessed in some way, shot the mother of his child…then shot himself. Friends should not have to feel that type of shock, coaches should not have to see that grisly sight. The bodies were still warm, the families were still probably notifying kin, and yet you were musing that if the Mr. Belcher didn’t have an arbitrary object that many households have, the deceased’s household would not have ceased.
From my viewpoint, as someone who looked up to you as a professional role model, it was a rash, obtuse, and crass thing to say. It’s not necessarily your opinion on gun culture that bothered me; it was how fast you moved to pontificate on it. It mattered not that you reflected someone else’s column; you’ve earned our trust over the last 25 years not as a provocateur, but as the calming voice of reason.
I’ll give you even more credit for being willing to hit the airwaves and be cross-examined. Though, to be blunt, I was again offended when I listened to your interview on The Dan Patrick Show. In attempting to double-down and justify your monologue, you said (paraphrase) ‘I overestimated that the viewers would be smart enough to understand I’m only speaking to a singular part of this tragedy.’ You didn’t overestimate viewers, you underestimated them, thinking they were dumb enough to swallow your simple little pill. I really don’t want to make this specifically about guns, but you had to know you were ringing a Pavlonian Bell…gettin’ all the antis and pros all frothy at the mouth to bark and howl about Gunz & ‘Murica.
If that’s not the case, then it’s almost heartbreaking to think that you would have naively engaged in that topic without the ample time to truly have a discussion. I know you addressed this trepidation on DP’s show, but did you really say to yourself ‘gee, I only have time to mention one potential factor in this tragedy, by George, I’ll choose the most polarizing topic I can think of!’?
I can't say why Mr. Belcher left his child an orphan, no more than you can. Whether it's violence, depression, lack of nuclear family, head trauma, pop culture, El Nino, or just plain ole un-fettered and unchecked evil rage...we will actually never know why he misused the power he had. What I do know is that you, Mr. Costas, with decades of well-earned clout and trust, have a power of your own. It is a power that demands enormous respect, discipline, and understanding of the detriment it can unleash if misused.
Perhaps that’s the cultural problem we face: In this digital age of snap-judgment and instant-gratification, maybe we’re more likely to engage in rash actions and underdeveloped thoughts just to shove our point across as fast and bold as possible. Who knows, if we don’t lash out now, if we don’t strike while the iron/blog/camera is hot, we’ll never be able to release the frustration we have! I’m sure a lot of folks didn’t get far into this letter because this story is a ‘whole freakin’ week old.’ I’m sure there are loyal members of this blog who won’t comment on it because ‘eh, I vented on another site 4 days ago when people were actually still talking about this thing.’
No matter what the root of the shooting was, it’s certainly reasonable to say that Mr. Belcher acted as if he didn’t want the heat of the moment to pass. Cooler heads wouldn’t have let him have his moment of sadistic glory. Was this a result of media/gun/tv/gimmie culture? I don’t know. Personally, I lay the responsibility for his actions solely at his feet. However, as I look around the various spheres in this digital age, I can’t help but see an increase of the same rash attitudes as they pertain to our ways of communicating.
We want our red meat. We’re used to having it now, right now, as fast as Twitter and Facebook and even this very blog can deliver it. We want to chew it up and spit it out as fast as possible, and then move onto the next meal. We’ve already forgotten that this event even doesn’t even come close to being the worst gun tragedy in America in the last 6 months!
The role models who stand in the way of pop-culture immediacy encroaching on our expectations & reactions to hard, relevant news are becoming fewer and farther between. We need people like you, Mr. Costas, to be a beacon for us to remember to quiet ourselves, and think before we speak on topics of actual impact.
Instead, you fell to the temptation to say your piece as quickly as possible, before the crowds moved on, and sadly, before you really had an idea of how to articulate your feelings. You told Dan Patrick yourself that you were worried if you didn’t say something on Sunday, you’d never get another chance. Seriously?!? A man with his own TV show on an uncensored network won’t get another chance to talk frankly to America?!?
I get that you can’t shock and surprise as many people with a well thought out argument as when you blindside them with a generalization. I understand that if you waited until Thursday on HBO to broach this subject, no matter how more complete your thoughts may have been, you might have only heard crickets…but is it worth the risk of trivializing a real-life horror story to achieve your own defining moment of profundity?
In the defining moment of Javon Belcher’s life, he employed flippant carelessness with the power he had in his hands. I’ll stop short of accusing you of doing the same with the power in your hands…but…gosh...it’s taking all temperance and reason I was taught at our Alma Mater not to.
James L. Graham
Television, Radio, Film ‘04