Sportscaster Bob Costas has arguably been the best in the business since Jim McKay.
Combining a likable manner with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of football, Costas speaks to both fans and non-fans alike. And his range of sports coverage is unequaled by anyone of his generation: boxing, NASCAR, golf, baseball, basketball, hockey, thoroughbred horse racing, and from 1988 to 2016, the Olympics. Over a career spanning decades, he has garnered 28 Emmy awards for his work.
However, Costas is more than stats and friendliness. Like McKay, he speaks of the human side, he speaks of facts and truth and fans trust him. Which speaks of his character. Unfortunately for Costas, it was the truth that cost him his job at NBC, a place he called home for nearly 40 years. What caused the relationship to end was a statement he made about one fact that football chooses to ignore.
“The reality is that this game destroys people’s brains.
“The cracks in the foundation are there,” Costas says. “The day-to-day issues, as serious as they may be, they may come and go. But you cannot change the nature of the game. … If I had an athletically gifted 12- or 13-year-old son, I would not let him play football.”
ESPN’s columnist, Tony Kornheiser joined Costas. He compared football to boxing and the resulting brain trauma which could likely cause the end of both games.
“It’s not going to happen this year,” Kornheiser said, “and it’s not going to happen in five years or 10 years. But Bob is right: At some point, the cultural wheel turns just a little bit, almost imperceptibly, and parents say, ‘I don’t want my kids to play.’ And then it becomes only the province of the poor, who want it for economic reasons to get up and out.
“If they don’t find a way to make it safe, and we don’t see how they will,” Kornheiser adds, “the game’s not going to be around. It’s not.”
While Costas has spoken before of the heavy price football players pay, it wasn’t until the film Concussion was released in 2015 that moved the issue before the public.
The sports drama follows Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who, in his work on the brain tissue of deceased football players, makes a tragic discovery.
“I think found a disease that no one has ever seen before. Repetitive head trauma chokes the brain! It turns you into someone else,” Omalu describes to officials. — a disease that comes to be known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). While his discovery is reported in the respected journal, Neuropathology, attention to this critical issue falls on deaf ears at the NFL, a fact Omalu cannot understand.
Omalu’s boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht, believes in his work but asks the pathologist a rhetorical question. “Did you think the NFL would thank you?”
“Yes,” Omalu says.
“What the hell for?”
The obstacle that Omalu does not grasp is one very obvious fact that Wecht describes in basic terms. “The NFL owns a day of the week. The same day the Church used to own. Now it’s theirs.”
In other words: billions of dollars.
“When you have truth,” Omalu’s wife tells him, “the thing you are told you cannot do is the thing you must do.”
And this brings me back to Costas. Last year, he joined CNN, where “…Bob’s insightful analysis will help our viewers better understand what the future holds as the sports and teams we love evolve to meet this moment,” CNN President Jeff Zucker said.
It’s probably not the same joy he experienced earlier in his career, but he remains in the game. Costas can also be seen covering baseball on the MLB Network where his talent continues to shine giving fans insight, facts and truth.
This brings me back to the truth and the NFL.
“Symptoms of CTE are lethal,” sports medicine writer Michael Dong says. “The extensive list is daunting: paranoia, memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicidality, parkinsonism, and dementia.”
That truth remains.
So does the status quo at the NFL.