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Miami Herald
Miami Herald
Greg Cote

Greg Cote: An American tragedy, a lesson in Sioux Falls: Sports, real life in age of mass shootings

MIAMI — This involves a football team.

It isn’t remotely a story about sports.

It is, very much, a story about America in 2022.

It is that in the worst possible way.

So a team called the Sioux City Bandits in Iowa thought it would be a neat idea to raffle off an AR-15 assault weapon this Saturday night during a home game in the minor Champions Indoor Football League.

This would have been as those 19 children and two teachers slaughtered in an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school were being memorialized and buried, victims put there by a coward who took their lives with an AR-15. I almost started to write “in the latest mass shooting” taking aim at the soul of America. Silly me. There have been several since.

The football team in northwest Iowa was going to give away the assault weapon as part of its Military Appreciation Night. (Under the tortured assumption, I guess, that veterans who know best the carnage this weapon of war can wreak appreciate it being so readily in the hands of civilians).

The team’s owner, J.R. Bond, relenting from a public outcry and the objection of a major sponsor, decided Thursday night to “postpone” the giveaway.

He said, “I guess our front office didn’t think through the whole situation with Texas and everything.”

One day earlier Bond had been adamant, saying he would not “cower down and backtrack because some guys in New York City and some guys in Boston, Massachusetts, think it’s a bad idea.”

Even if those guys in New York and Boston are right, he might have added.

Bond offered no apology or even regret in “postponing” the assault-weapon giveaway, which was beyond callous for its timing and just plain jarring simply because it normalizes the idea of assault weapon-owning as a part of America’s gun culture and its epidemic of mass shootings.

By the way, I am for the Second Amendment.

I am for the Second Amendment the founders imagined, which was the right of citizens to own a handgun to protect their home, for example, or a rifle to hunt deer and so forth.

That the Second Amendment is now an umbrella and safe haven for the assault weapon industry is abhorrent to all logic. The killing machines are ruining America, one soul-crushing, heart-breaking mass shooting after the other. Only in America is this a plague.

One fully expected the National Rifle Association to go ahead with its national convention in Texas just three days after the mass murders in Uvalde.

It isn’t that the NRA is tone-deaf or optics-blind. It’s worse than that. The NRA defiantly doesn’t care how it looks.

Neither did that indoor football team owner in Sioux Falls — until a major sponsor said, whoa.

A local team raffling off an assault weapon is roughly as right as NASCAR inviting Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to wave it’s starter’s flag as LGBTQ Pride Month began. That would be the same NASCAR that banned Confederate flags as it steps gingerly into the current century with a pledge of inclusiveness. That would be the same Gov. Abbott who has called on his state to investigate gender-affirming treatments for transgender teens.

NASCAR, facing a backlash on the juxtaposition Pride Month, Abbott and its pledge of inclusiveness, issued a mea culpa tweet that essentially said, Oops.

The intersection of sports and real life sees more traffic than ever.

Now the PGA Tour and its players are at war over some players’ support of a breakaway league backed by Saudi Arabia riches.

Wimbledon has banned Russian players from competing over that country’s invasion of Ukraine — yet Russian players are still welcome to play in the NHL. Is somebody wrong? Are both sides right?

Coco Gauff reaches the French Open final and after her semifinal writes in marker courtside, Peace. End gun violence.

(Oh, hey, and Colin Kaepernick finally got a tryout by an NFL team, though it dripped of tokenism and he will likely continue a martyr for kneeling during the anthem to protest social and racial injustice.)

It is relentlessly fascinating to me, this mix of sports and real life.

It was when Miami Heat players donned hoodies to protest the Trayvon Martin killing.

It was during the pandemic about vaccinations.

It is now as teams, leagues, coaches and players grapple with how to respond to this epidemic of mass shootings and America’s unwillingness to deal with it head-on because too many politicians are more beholden to the gun lobby than they are to the health and safety of their constituents.

Why do you think weak Florida Senator Marco Rubio lashed out at the Heat after they aired a video in the arena urging fans to call senators Rubio and Rick Scott to demand “common sense gun laws”?

Democrats and Republicans can agree: Our political system is broken when the vast majority of Americans support stricter gun laws and an assault weapons ban yet elected officials, as a whole, do nothing — nothing — as the slaughter continues across the land.

I will get emails over this column, of course; the ones that always make me smile.

“Stick to sports!”

OK ... but why?

As if being a sports columnist is closer to my heart and soul, closer to who I am, than being a man terrified because his 4 1/2-year-old granddaughter is dropped off at a preschool every weekday morning.

Stick to sports when even sports does not stick to sports?

When the line between games and reality blurs to nonexistence?

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, at the height of his sport, in the midst of his playoffs, fighting to win a championship, began a recent pregame press conference with an impassioned and angry soliloquy on the mass shooting in Uvalde.

Kerr doubled down again Wednesday night ahead of NBA Finals Game 1, saying, “Murdering children in their classroom has become a political issue. What are we doing?”

Remember when we dove into sports to escape?

Steve Kerr was reminding us there is no escape anymore.

There are small respites when we have the luxury to obsess for a minute over whether Jimmy Butler should have taken that late 3-point shot as if nothing were more important.

And then the hate-crime massacre in the Buffalo market happens, and then Uvalde does.

And then we all brace for what’s next.

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