Bob Costas fired off a lecture during prime-time NBC coverage of the NFL that outraged some political commentators and fans. The speech was in response to a murder-suicide committed by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, 25, who killed Kasandra Perkins, 22, the mother of his infant daughter, before kneeling, making the sign of the cross, and fatally shooting himself in the head outside of the Chiefs’ practice facility on Saturday, December 1.
Costas, the “voice of the Olympics,” is known for his melodramatic life-lessons commentaries following major sporting events. But this time Costas, behind the mike for a special halftime commentary, established his bona fides by disparaging those who revel in cliché—“Something like ‘this really puts it all in perspective.’ Well, if so, that sort of perspective has a very short shelf-life, since we will inevitably hear about the perspective we have supposedly again regained the next time ugly reality intrudes upon our games.”
Here’s the ugly reality: Illegitimacy is rampant among NFL players, professional athletes in general, and the American public as a whole. The same goes for cohabitation (shackin’ up). Illegal in all states in 1970, cohabitation is now practiced by well over 60 percent of the U.S. population, at some point in their lives. Indeed, says the journal Vital Health Statistics, “cohabitation is increasingly becoming the first coresidential union formed among young adults.”
What’s the big deal, you ask? Just this: If you are a woman who is shacking up with your man (instead of tying the knot), you are twice as likely to be physically abused by him. Or, as the Family Violence Research Program at the University of New Hampshire puts it, “the overall rate of violence for cohabiting couples is twice as high as for married couples.” Conversely, as the Journal of Family Violence reports, “The lowest rate [of domestic violence] was found among married couples (19 percent).”
And it gets worse, because, the Family Violence Research Program adds, when it comes to cohabiting couples, “the overall rate for ‘severe’ violence is nearly five times as high.” They are also far more likely to struggle with alcohol and drug addictions.
As if we needed more, researcher Brad Wilcox tells the New York Times, the data “suggests that cohabitation about doubles a child’s risk of negative outcomes like poor school performance, psychological problems, and delinquency/drug use.”
Friends say that, in addition to the trauma of multiple concussions, Jovan Belcher was addicted to narcotics and booze. Belcher and Perkins had been living together (cohabiting), conceived a child, broke up, then reunited, residing in Belcher’s upscale house on Crysler Avenue along with Belcher’s mother.
On their last night on earth, the couple had been apart: He, partying in the Power and Light district in KC; she, attending a Trey Songz concert, reportedly her “first night out after having her baby,” enjoying such hits as “Say Aah” and “Panty Wetter.” Police say that their three-month-old was apparently in the care of Belcher’s mother.
Police reports also indicate that Belcher slept at a(nother) “girlfriend’s” apartment, a fact they can testify to, since they found him drunk in his Bentley outside the building at 2:30 a.m. and told him to go inside. Returning home at 6:30 a.m., Belcher accused Perkins of cheating on him with Trey Songz. The couple argued, and, according to Belcher’s mother, the last words she heard her son say to the mother of his child were “You can’t talk to me like that!” He emptied his entire clip into her.
Within the hour, a visibly remorseful Belcher would end his life in front of his coach, as police approached.
Those studies about cohabitation are not disputed: Dozens more, from a variety of university and domestic-violence researchers, concur. Nonetheless, it takes real courage to call a spade a spade, to take a stand on national television and, in the wake of such a horribly violent crime, denounce the culture of cohabitation. At the very least it would mean risking one’s street cred with NFL athletes, who might not be so eager to do the next exclusive sit-down with NBC’s premier sports-talker.
So instead Bob Costas mounted the pulpit and preached on “handgun violence.” In so doing, he sanctimoniously cited at length an article by FOX Sports analyst Jason Whitlock, who has since distinguished himself by referring to the NRA as the KKK.
“How many lives have to be ruined before we realize the right to bear arms doesn’t protect us from a government equipped with stealth bombers, predator drones, tanks and nuclear weapons?” asks an incredulous Whitlock and a righteous Costas. “Our current gun culture simply ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy.”
Unfortunately, it’s the cohabitation culture that translates into tragedy. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Bob Costas or NBC to take that up.
—Aaron D. Wolf
This article was first published in the January 2013 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.