Men Talk Guns: Costas, Whitlock, & Powell

These are the kinds of things I want to hear more men saying about guns and masculinity.

In the days after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and then himself, both in front of other people, we’ve been having our periodic too-short-conversations about gun culture.  Earlier this year, following the mass shooting at the Sikh community in Wisconsin, I wrote about how talking about this after a terrible tragedy is, for those involved, too late.

This time, a few men are also talking about how certain hyper-masculine pressures are part of our culture problem.

Apparently, lots of people were upset that Bob Costas took 90 seconds out of his Sunday Night Football coverage to talk about Perkins’ murder.

Here’s the video, much of it quoting sports journalist Jason Whitlock:

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And part of the transcript of his comments:

Please, those who need tragedies to continually recalibrate their sense of proportion about sports would seem to have little hope of ever truly achieving perspective. You want some actual perspective on this? Well, a bit of it comes from the Kansas City-based writer Jason Whitlock with whom I do not always agree, but who today said it so well that we may as well just quote or paraphrase from the end of his article.

“Our current gun culture,” Whitlock wrote, “ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy and that more convenience-store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead.”

Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it. In the coming days, Jovan Belcher’s actions, and their possible connection to football will be analyzed. Who knows?”

“But here,” wrote Jason Whitlock, “is what I believe. If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.”

I’m glad Costas said what he said, when he said it, and where he said it.  Surely it’s the NFL audience (men men men) who didn’t want to hear it, but they are the ones who perhaps most need to hear it.  And really, they need more than 90 seconds.

While reminding us that we shouldn’t forget about Kasandra Perkins, the first victim in this tragedy, Kevin Powell writes over at that our constructs of what it means to be a man are part of the culture problem that we have got to solve:

Belcher was a man living in the supersized macho world of football, a world in which many of us American males reside, be it football or not. Too many of us have been taught manhood in a way that is not healthy. Be tough, men do not cry, man up — these are the things I’ve heard my entire life, and I now cringe when I hear this relayed to boys or younger men by teachers, coaches, fathers, mentors and leaders.

Or we use derogatory and sexist or homophobic words to describe men or boys who do not meet the “normal” of what a male is supposed to be. Some of these male authority figures mean well, or are simply repeating what they were socialized to be or to do, and do not realize that they are unwittingly teaching that manhood has little room to express hurt, disappointment and sorrow.

Yes, they had been arguing, Belcher and his girlfriend, but in my work as an activist, including around gender violence prevention, I’ve seen the tragic pattern across our nation of men who, in the heat of rage, have killed their girlfriends, wives or lovers, as if they had no other vocabulary or emotion to deal with the disagreement or the break-up.

More men need to have more honest conversations about guns and interpersonal violence.

This is a start.

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About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.