I’m not a Bob Costas fan. At all.
That said, this is a very good clip from him on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno Thursday night. In it, Costas does two things – first, he explains to a quite satisfactory degree what he was trying to say last year when he lambasted the “gun culture” in the NFL and was taken to the woodshed by the 2nd Amendment supporters – including here at the Hayride – for his trouble.
Namely, that while it came out sounding like an attack on the 2nd Amendment that wasn’t his intention. What Costas was trying to get across is that a 25-year old man-child with runaway testosterone and God knows what else coursing through his veins and a posse of generally undesirable lackeys going into strip clubs strapped with 9 millimeter Glocks are less likely to produce satisfactory results than the same group without 9 millimeter Glocks.
And that’s an acceptable – and suitably non-political – statement. Would that Costas had made that clarification back in December, when he seemingly jumped aboard the gun-control frenzy by the mainstream media and the political Left to apply a good bit of that rhetoric to the sports world.
You can say Costas is just trying to repair the damage to his reputation as a sports journalist in making tonight’s statements, and you might well be correct. I’m going to choose to believe that he’s honestly attempting to get across an opinion that the gun culture among some of the NFL’s players, which produced the murder Ray Lewis was involved with, the paralyzed victim of Pac Man Jones’ gang popping off rounds inside a strip club and the idiocy of Plaxico Burress accidentally shooting himself in a night club and going to jail on a gun charge in the process, is an example of raging stupidity at work.
Which we can agree with. Once you’ve signed a million-dollar contract to play wide receiver for the Dolphins or Broncos, you no longer have any reason to act like a gangster. At that point you’re better suited to start acting like one of the stuck-up snobs at the country club you can buy your way into. Going around like Arkansas Dave Rudabaugh is just plain stupid for somebody in that position.
The other thing Costas says, which more or less sets up our perception that he’s honest in his clarification on the “gun culture” bit, is that there are too many kids coming out of college in basketball and football who simply don’t have the ability to act like civilized people, and that we have institutions of higher learning which are turning out thugs who happen to be good athletes. And because that is the case in a large measure, the NFL and NBA, for example, are almost powerless to prevent someone like an Aaron Hernandez from making it into pro sports.
He’s right on that score. As he notes, Hernandez was a first-round talent coming out of the University of Florida, but he lasted until the fourth round because it was known that he was a thug and a gangster. The New England Patriots took a chance on him in the fourth round because (1) they’ve got a relatively solid team culture led by people like Tom Brady which has served them pretty well in making good citizens out of at-risk kids like a Hernandez, and (2) by the time the fourth round came along, somebody was going to take Hernandez on the theory that getting a player that good that late was worth taking a risk on him and it might as well be New England instead of somebody who would beat New England by throwing Hernandez touchdown passes against them.
And there is nothing outrageous or blameworthy in that calculation. Sometimes you can improve a member of your organization through positive role models and a good team culture; as Americans we like to believe in that possibility and the redemption contained therein.
The upshot of that is the NFL and the NBA can only do the best they can with the talent they can get. If that talent pool is tainted with bad people college athletics couldn’t weed out, NFL general managers can’t be asked to always turn down players who can improve their teams out of a perception of bad character. After all, there is no team in the NFL who wouldn’t have been happy to have what Ray Lewis gave the Baltimore Ravens, regardless of what happened that night in Atlanta he wouldn’t tell the cops about. You don’t have to endorse his behavior to recognize that Lewis was a terrific player and, at least where the Ravens and the city of Baltimore were concerned, a good citizen as well – particularly after his legal troubles were resolved. That’s not to say Ray Lewis is a saint or even a nice guy; all it means is that he wasn’t a repeat offender or a one-man crime wave in Baltimore, and he gave great football to that franchise. If you job is to get great football out of your roster, you will take a Ray Lewis if you can get one, because if you pass on him he will absolutely haunt you when he shows up with another team in your division.
So the problem is a lot deeper. The thugs aren’t manufactured by the college teams; they’re thugs when they get to college. And often they’re thugs when they get to high school.
What would be nice is if the NFL would attempt to get a little proactive, and do everything they can to begin squeezing the gang-banger persona out of football. Stop acting like victims of it, which the league legitimately is, and start trying to inculcate young kids who aspire to be NFL players with the positive values of a Drew Brees or Tom Brady or Warrick Dunn. If you can – as early as possible – reinforce to the kids that they have to choose between patterning themselves after positive NFL role models or being thugs who don’t get a chance to play in the league, you’ll have less Hobson’s choices to make between enduring a Hernandez on your roster and enduring a Hernandez on somebody else’s roster who makes gang signs on TV after he just scored a touchdown to beat you.
That, plus the league needs to begin coming down on stupid behavior from immature players who think it makes sense to get a million-dollar contract and continue acting like the richest kid in the ghetto when a lot of them qualify to act like the richest kid in the country club. A little bit of nouveau-riche pretension snobbery would do the league a lot of good.