POSTED: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 - 1:30pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 - 1:34pm
CNN — Bob Costas and Piers Morgan couldn't agree more on one thing: Something has to be done about the pervasive gun culture in the United States.
And that problem, Costas said, becomes even more of an issue when you pair it with the culture of the National Football League, which has seen its share of tragic events, including the recent Jovan Belcher murder-suicide.
NBC sportscaster Costas sat down with CNN's Piers Morgan on Monday night to discuss the growing debate over gun control. Both have faced criticism after taking on the issue -- Costas during a recent halftime show of a "Sunday Night Football" game and Morgan on Twitter.
Costas said the issue is a growing one, especially for NFL players, many of whom reportedly say they carry a weapon for security or some of whom have been arrested.
So does Costas think that Belcher's suicide after killing the mother of his child means the league is at a breaking point?
"I don't know if it approaches crisis; perhaps it does, but it's at a crossroads because there's an issue about the fundamental nature of the game. It's so popular and so profitable, but it takes a tremendous toll on many of those who play it. Not just body, but as we're now learning, mind and emotions," Costas said on "Piers Morgan Tonight."
"And it's a legitimate question to ask whether, for some players at least, the toll that the game takes, brain trauma, medications that they may take, enhance performance or deal with pain, all those things. The culture of the league increases the likelihood of abhorrent behavior. It's possible."
Costas said regardless of what side of the gun debate you fall on, there is a simple rule that cannot be debated.
"It is infinitely more likely that something bad will happen if you're armed than something good will happen," he told Morgan.
Shortly before the taping of the Costas-Morgan interview, a shooting occurred not far from the CNN headquarters in New York. It's an example, Morgan said, of how pervasive guns are and also how numb Americans have become to a dangerous issue.
Costas said the real problem is the way guns have of escalating a situation.
His case in point: George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.
Putting aside the facts of the case or race concerns, Costas asked one simple question.
"What does common sense tell you about the likelihood of that confrontation ever taking place in the first place if George Zimmerman was not carrying a gun?
It is a comment you might not have expected months ago from Costas. He said he never intended to create a pulpit of any kind but he felt he had to say something following Belcher's suicide.
And while critics argued a halftime show wasn't the time or the place for the debate, Costas said he couldn't remain quiet. The comments that followed mostly trashed Costas for speaking out.
"It wasn't my intent to become a spokesperson in any way for this issue," Costas told Morgan. "But if no matter how imperfectly I may have done it a week ago Sunday, if this has sparked a conversation and in some small way influenced people's behavior, so much the better."
It was not lost on him that many people took him to task for only speaking out about guns. And on Monday night, Costas addressed those critics.
"Jovan Belcher had eight guns. And for those who, by the way, say what if (his girlfriend) Kasandra Perkins had a gun; there were guns in that house," he said. "She'd have to have it holstered like she's Wild Bill Hickok in the old West to have it at the ready when Jovan Belcher came barging through the door."
But comments on Twitter kept flying: What if it were a stabbing? What if it were drunken driving? Or what about the situation with the Dallas Cowboys, with Josh Brent being arrested on suspicion of intoxication manslaughter after being in a crash that killed teammate Jerry Brown Jr.
"It's tough to tangentially link it to what happened with Jovan Belcher, but obviously it's a case of bad judgment," Costas said.
Costas recalled a story of former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy asking 80 players at training camp how many had guns and 65 raising their hands.
"Even if those guns were legally obtained, what do you think over time would be the ratio between unintended and tragic consequences, including accidents, but also including times when people just snapped and impulse got in the way, anger got in the way?" Costas said. "The ratio of that as against the times that the gun would be used for a good outcome for legitimate self-defense. It's common sense to see where that's going to wind up."
Morgan said during his debates on Twitter he had constantly been asked about the times that guns were helpful. But Morgan said he found the pro-gun lobbyist debate to be harmful for the country.
"A certain type of pro-gun lobbyist twists, I believe, this debate, in a very unhealthy way," Morgan said. "They always say it's never the gun, it's always the person, with a clear indication that the people are evil and they perpetrate evil with guns."
Morgan rattled off three tragic stories in a four-day period:
"December 5, a 4-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his younger brother in Minneapolis with his father's handgun in the home. December 6, a 7-year-old finds his grandfather's gun -- this is in Philadelphia -- and shoots his sister," Morgan said. "December 9, a 7-year-old boy (is) shot dead when his father's handgun went off in a parking lot of a Western Pennsylvania gun store."
Costas said those are exactly the circumstances he thinks we need to try and avoid. He noted there are many instances of legitimate self-defense. But in his opinion, they don't outweigh "how many bad things happen because of an attitude toward guns in this country."
"That's what I was trying to get at on that Sunday night. And my mistake was, and I've acknowledged this, normally, we have about 2½ minutes. That's tight enough. Here we had only 90 seconds," Costas said.
"I alluded in a general way to the culture of football but didn't have time to enumerate it. But those who think that I was reluctant to hold the NFL to account are not familiar with my work. Because almost alone among network sports broadcasters, I have made many points about the culture of the NFL, asked many questions of (NFL Commissioner) Roger Goodell and NFL officials, and continue to -- plan to do so in the future.
"Are drugs involved, alcohol involved? Yes, all those things. But guns are among them. It seems that some people want it to be about everything and anything but guns. I don't think it's only about guns, but I think that guns, even if legally obtained, people's attitudes toward guns are definitely a part of this problem."
Costas said he understands why many people feel the need to have a gun, whether it is for safety in their home or elsewhere.
"Over the course of a year, how often do you think that would lead to tragedy and how often do you think it would lead to safety? That's my question."