ST. LOUIS — When Bob Costas decided to talk about guns Sunday night during a national football broadcast, he knew he would catch grief from those who oppose stricter controls on firearm ownership.
"I knew there would be a reaction to that, and I am not dismayed by that at all," Costas said in an interview Monday afternoon.
But Costas says he wasn't necessarily calling for tighter gun controls and pointed out that he was highlighting a writer's commentary on the country's "gun culture." The comments, he noted, did not include the phrases "gun control" or "Second Amendment."
"Obviously, I am not talking about banning gun ownership or repealing the Second Amendment," Costas said. "I am not talking about a person's right to protect their family, their home or property, or to hunt."
Twitter and Facebook were almost immediately flooded with complaints after Costas' remarks, made during halftime of the "Sunday Night Football" game on NBC. The comments drew air time on TV talk shows, a host of opinions from various celebrities and the attention of people on both sides of the gun-control debate.
"Some people are motivated by this issue, and social media allows those who are most motivated to comment," said Costas, who lives in the St. Louis area. "What it doesn't reflect are the dozens of calls I got from people saying they agreed, that (the writer's commentary) was good."
The roots of the controversy reach back to Saturday morning, when Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend, then drove to the Chiefs' facility and killed himself.
Move forward to halftime of Sunday night's game between Philadelphia and Dallas. Costas said the show's producers decided to use the halftime program to discuss the Belcher incident.
"We had Dan Patrick, Rodney Harrison and Tony Dungy talk about the issue, and there were (comments) from (Chiefs coach) Romeo Crennel and (quarterback) Brady Quinn. Then they told me that I had 90 seconds after that" to fill, Costas said.
Costas noted that earlier in the evening, he had read a column by Jason Whitlock, a Fox Sports writer based in Kansas City who decried the "gun culture" in the U.S.
"Obviously, I agreed with it. There is too casual of an attitude towards guns in this country. I thought it was a valid take" on the incident, Costas said.
In the column that Costas quoted, Whitlock wrote: "Our current gun culture 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, Belcher's actions and their possible connections to football will be analyzed. Who knows? But here is what I believe: If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today."
The flap by Monday morning included St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, who wrote on Twitter: "Costas missed the point. Belcher tragedy is a DV (domestic violence) issue, not a gun control issue."
She then provided an Internet link to information about domestic violence and telephone numbers where women can seek help.
In an interview, Joyce said she applauded Costas for taking a stand on a social issue during the broadcast of a sporting event, but she maintained that the bigger issue is domestic violence.
"I just got six cases come across my desk today," Joyce said. "And when I heard the news about (Costas' remarks and the ensuing furor), I was disappointed that we were getting distracted from an opportunity to raise awareness of domestic violence."
Costas agreed that domestic violence is another aspect of the Belcher incident, but that given his limited air time, he focused on the gun-culture angle.
"What I said was that if you were looking for some perspective on (the Belcher incident), then 'a bit of it' comes from Jason Whitlock," Costas said.
"Domestic violence is a whole other subject that could be discussed with this, as is the issue of football and cognitive (brain) damage that can lead to violent behavior," Costas added.
He also said the incident could lead to a "comprehensive discussion" once all the facts surrounding Belcher have been investigated.
Finally, Costas dismissed critics who contend his remarks had no place in the broadcast of a sporting event.
"Every (football) show talked about that incident, and it involved a football player," he said.