The Smoking Gun in the NFL

So, I’ve told the hopefully charming/funny story about the Super Bowl XXX welched bet in place of the more weighty issues facing the NFL lately, but now, with the tragedy in Newtown CT unfolding on Friday, it seems that the topic cannot be avoided. And maybe should not be.

A few weeks ago, following Chief’s linebacker Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide, when Bob Costas spoke out about gun control his comments met with a lot of derision, with many fans and fellow bloggers critical of his falling outside his role of sportscaster for one, but also about his stance on gun control in general. Now, with the country almost literally reeling from the absolutely unfathomable loss of 20 children and six educators at the hand of a disturbed young man wielding weapons all legally owned and registered by his mother, it would seem, at least to me, that Costa’s remarks carried the heavy weight of presentiment.

Let me start by saying I own two hunting rifles. I inherited them from my father who taught me to shoot and took me on countless hunting trips growing up. Therefore, no hate mail please from all the hunters out there. But, let’s look at a few random facts:

• A USA Today poll reported that three out of four NFL players owned at least one gun, as compared to 40-45 percent of the general population.
• As published in the FBI Uniform Crime Report, between 2006 and 2010 47,856 people were murdered in the United States by firearms, more than twice as many as all other means combined.
• According to futureswithoutviolence.org, “A gun is the weapon most commonly used in domestic homicides. In fact, more than three times as many women are murdered by guns used by their husbands or intimate acquaintances than are killed by strangers’ guns, knives or other weapons combined.”
• Justin Peters of Slate.com wrote recently, “The San Diego Union-Tribune hosts a tremendously helpful database of NFL player arrests since 2000. I went through it last night, and determined that of the 32 NFL teams, 21 of them have this year had at least one player who’s been charged at some point with domestic violence or sexual assault.” As Steeler fans unfortunately all know, that statistic includes the Steelers.

Why do players feel the need for guns? David Leon Moore of USA Today interviewed former Kansas City Chief Thomas Jones, and this is what he said, “Most guys when they first come into the league is when they first start to realize they need protection. Because money brings a lot of positive things. But most of the time, it brings more negative things. People don’t like you for what you have, for who you are. They don’t like you for what you represent. And people will go to any length to take what you have or harm you in some way just because they don’t have what you have. If you don’t have a firearm to protect you from situations and God forbid something happens to you, you wish you would have a firearm.”

I tried to find statistics on how many NFL players are actually the victims of crimes and couldn’t find anything concrete. We all know that they are, of course, just like any of us could be and unfortunately sometimes are. I admit that they are often easily recognizable, particularly in the cities where they play, and they do potentially draw a crowd wherever they go. I’d hate to be a Steeler this week trying to do last minute Christmas errands. I would imagine every player on the roster has gotten a plethora of armchair coaching advice as they try to go about their lives. It’s annoying, I’m sure, it’s intrusive and it’s not right for us as fans to bother players when they’re trying to go about their business outside of the stadium, but I would hate to think when I saw Emmanuel Sanders at the mall a few weeks ago that he was packing heat. Does Willie Colon take a gun to the local Wal-Mart? Probably not. Has he ever needed it while buying toilet paper? Not that I’ve ever heard. So, how legitimate is the statement made by Thomas Jones? Is it really more a case of trying to live out a persona? NFL players are thought to be tough and manly. Is owning a gun part of trying to live up to that role? I don’t know. If there are any players or former players out there who are willing to tell me, I’m all ears and will report it. But, barring any evidence to the contrary, what I do conclude is that if the NFL players really want to learn a lesson from the loss of two young people who should have their lives in front of them instead of now completely over, they have to begin by asking themselves: do I really need this gun? And I believe they need to answer it: no, no I don’t. Will that solve everything: no, no it won’t. Sadly. But every journey begins with a first step.

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