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Football and Guns

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They can shatter bones and end lives, but their importance to our culture makes any critical conversation about the obvious dangers they pose taboo. But it's only at their most lethal that they expose the depressing depths our country will go to in order to rationalize their presence.

Of course, I'm talking about guns and football games.

According to police, on Saturday, Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, shot and killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins before driving to the Chiefs practice facility, where he committed suicide.

It's the type of tragedy so senseless it's difficult to comprehend and in the wake of Belcher's murder-suicide, our nation expressed shock and grief... and then put on our jerseys and face paint in time for Sunday's kickoff.

A little more than 24 hours after news broke of the shooting, the Kansas City Chiefs played their home game as scheduled against the Carolina Panthers.

The Chiefs pulled off the upset and predictably, this was interpreted as some sort of step towards healing by writers such as ESPN's Jeffri Chadiha, who wrote "The only image of the Chiefs on this day was one of a team fighting to heal itself in the only way it really knew how."

But to label this as a tragedy that has just befallen the Chiefs is to overlook the much wider and more disturbing trend that has emerged in the NFL, and that certainly can't be solved through distractions -- which is exactly what the Chiefs game on Sunday amounted to.

In 2012 alone, five former NFL players (Kurt Crain, Mike Current, Junior Seau, Ray Easterling, and now, Jovan Belcher) have committed suicide via apparent self-inflicted gunshot wounds. This doesn't include former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, who in 2011, sent his family a text message urging that his brain be used for research prior to dying from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. There's also Andre Waters, the former hard-hitting Philadelphia Eagles safety, whose post-suicide autopsy in 2006 revealed that, at the age of 44, his brain tissue had deteriorated to the point that it resembled that of an 85-year-old man.

The volume and close proximity of these deaths are staggering, but bringing them up makes for much less comfortable reading than the familiar stories Americans are now accustomed to reading about groups of people coping following a deadly act of gun violence.

While, based on their actions, the NFL seemingly attempted to move past the Belcher story as fast as possible, Bob Costas decided to use his platform during halftime of the highest-rated show in the U.S., NBC's Football Night in America to meaningfully reflect on its wider implications.

Costas, who's arguably the most respected man in sports journalism, put his reputation on the line to bring more attention to a story that highlights the oft-overlooked morality flaws related to two of the things Americans hold most dear: guns and football.

For this, he faced predictable backlash.

On Fox News, conservative radio host called for Costas' immediate firing, former Mitt Romney staffer Ted Newton tweeted "Shame on NBC & Bob Costas for that embarrassing anti-gun screed," and Dan Calabrese penned a column for CainTV.com (yes, that's a Herman Cain-founded news and commentary website) titled "Excuse me, Bob Costas, but you're an idiot, so shut up."

In general, the common sentiment from this group is that people who want to commit crimes will find a way to get a gun whether they're legal or not, so taking guns away from law-abiding citizens who want to practice their constitutional right to carry a firearm is counterintuitive. In a sense these people are right -- America's problem has very little to do with gun laws. It has absolutely everything to do with gun culture.

Americans fall victim to gun violence not exclusively due to availability, but because the idea of wielding a firearm or having one close by for the most part doesn't really bother us. This is unique and bizarre behavior for an industrialized nation that hasn't had a ground war on its soil in almost 150 years. America's issue isn't its access to guns -- plenty of countries allow gun permits -- it's our inherent and frankly cowardly desire to own and glorify them. Acknowledging that our country possessing 270 million firearms -- more than every other country ranked in the top 20 in total firearm possession combined -- is absolutely, by every rational measure, ridiculous, is a necessary first step before even beginning the conversation about why we feel the need to own a remarkably disproportionate amount of guns.

It's possible that had Jovan Belcher not had access to a gun, he would have used other means in order to commit murder. But perhaps, contrary to what Fox News' Megyn Kelly expressed on-air, the discussion shouldn't focus on the method by which Belcher, and others who have committed similarly unconscionable acts, would have committed their crimes had they not had access to firearms. Rather maybe gun advocates should be disturbed by their own willingness to concede that there is an inordinate amount of people in our country relative to other nations who will perpetrate such crimes by any means necessary.

Perhaps it's time we truly examine why this is the case, rather than await the next act of meaningless violence to mourn. Whether it's examining the extensive cuts to our state mental health budgets or re-evaluating whether the sport of football should have a complete overhaul to prioritize player safety, we should heed Bob Costas' sentiment and no longer stubbornly look beyond the obvious fact that there are serious ongoing problems with two of America's favorite pastimes -- and that the refusal to meaningfully fix them has and will cost lives.

But if the country wants to find a culprit for the violence that plagues us, perhaps it needs to search even beyond football and guns and instead do what it always tries to avoid at all costs when doling out responsibility -- we need to look in the mirror.