After Sunday night's episode of Revenge ended on ABC, I switched over to the football game on NBC. Instead of football, I was greeted by the tail end of Bob Costas' rant about gun control. Said rant was inspired by the recent suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher after he shot his girlfriend.
Before the end of the third quarter, I had fired off the following email to the NBC Sports contact address:
I tuned in to your broadcast of Sunday Night Football after another show I watch on Sunday nights ended, expecting to find football. Instead, I found Bob Costas nattering about gun control. I didn't catch the beginning of his rant, but the part I did see left me furious.
Bob Costas seems to think that gun control will prevent suicide and murder. I was unaware that guns were the only method available for people who wish to commit homicide or suicide to do so. In fact, I'm about 110% sure that they AREN'T.
In the wake of the suicide of a public figure, we should be talking about the problem that is at the heart of the issue, which is SUICIDE PREVENTION. You know what prevents suicide? I'll give you a hint: the answer is NOT GUN CONTROL.
Why are we SO DAMN AFRAID to talk about mental health issues? That football player didn't kill his girlfriend and himself because he owned a gun. He did it because he had SERIOUS MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS, and maybe if our society wasn't so damn ashamed and so damn afraid to talk about mental health issues, he'd have gotten HELP. There are a myriad of ways to kill oneself and others. If making firearms illegal would prevent murder or suicide, there wouldn't be any murders or suicides in England. Guess what? THERE ARE.
In the wake of Costas' criminally ill-informed rant, NBC Sports has a unique opportunity to shed light on the REAL issue: mental health and our society's fear of talking about mental health. You can be a part of the solution instead of perpetuating the problem. I suggest putting together some kind of investigative special about mental health and the stigmas against seeking help for mental health issues, particularly as they apply to professional athletes (I imagine there is even more pressure in that community to appear invulnerable than there is in wider society). Football in particular is a sport where players' brains undergo a lot of physical abuse, which itself can lead to mental health problems.
I know I will probably get nothing but a form letter in response to this email, but please, as someone who is fighting a battle against depression - a battle made more difficult by our society's view of mental health problems as something that is shameful and a sign of weakness of character - I am begging you to take the opportunity that Bob Costas has accidentally given you. Please become part of the solution - your reach is huge. Your audience is filled with people who most need to hear the message that mental health problems are not something to be ashamed of and that it does not make them less of a person to ask for help. Don't deflect attention away from the real issue that a murder/suicide committed by a public figure should bring to light. You have the power to change lives. To save lives.
I'm just asking you to use it.
Look, I understand the impulse to ban guns, although I do not favor such a ban. We'd like to believe that with guns off the streets, violence would end. The sad fact is that it wouldn't. Should guns be as easy to buy as a candy bar? Of course not.
But ultimately the take away from a tragedy like this one shouldn't be about gun control at all. People don't commit a murder and then commit suicide just because they acquired a gun. They do it because they had serious mental health problems for which they weren't getting the help they needed. In the wake of the suicide of a public figure, we should be talking about suicide prevention. We should be talking about removing the stigma surrounding depression and other mental health problems so that people who struggle with them will be less likely to be too ashamed of having them to seek out help or even admit that they need it.
The best the news coverage of Belcher's suicide has been able to muster in this regard is to say that he didn't have a history of concussions or anger management issues and that everybody thought he seemed happy. He clearly wasn't. This is the second suicide of an active NFL player in this season (the first being Titans wide receiver OJ Murdock in late July), and the 2012 offseason was marred by the apparent suicide of legendary linebacker Junior Seau. Even that wasn't the first suicide of an NFL player in 2012.
It's time for real conversations about real issues, not deflections. It's time to start making real change instead of rehashing old arguments about issues that are only tagentially related to the events being discussed. It might be easier and less scary to blame guns and talk about gun control, but the problem of suicide can only be solved if we talk about suicide and mental health.
If you are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, you do not have to do so alone. You can call the National Hopeline Network at 1-800-SUICIDE or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. If you do not feel comfortable talking on the phone, you can visit IMAlive.org, an online crisis intervention chat network created by To Write Love on Her Arms and the Kristin Brooks Hope Center. For more resources regarding finding or offering help, visit TWLOHA.com.