Bob Costas was wrapping up his lengthy career with NBC during the 2017 NFL season.
Costas was planning to finish out the season hosting NBC’s Sunday Night Football, concluding with him hosting the Super Bowl one last time before stepping away.
For a broadcaster like Costas — who had been with the network since 1979 and hosted some of the biggest sporting events in the world, including numerous Super Bowls, Olympic Games, World Series, NBA Finals, Triple Crown horse races, and more — it seemed like a fitting ending.
Except that never happened.
Costas was pulled from the broadcast last minute for his comments on concussions and brain damage in the NFL.
“I think the words were, ‘You’ve crossed the line,'” Costas told ESPN. “My thought was, ‘What line have I crossed?'”
— ESPN (@espn) February 10, 2019
Costas’ ‘controversial’ comments on concussions
Three months before the Super Bowl, Costas spoke at a journalism symposium at Maryland. That’s when his comments on concussions and brain injuries in the NFL took off.
“The issue that is most substantial — the existential issue — is the nature of football itself,” Costas said, via the Washington Post. “The reality is that this game destroys people’s brains.”
Now, that’s not an outstanding view and shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been following the league in recent years. Brain damage — specifically chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE — has been a rising issue among both current and retired NFL players.
In fact, a 2017 New York Times report found that of 111 brains of NFL players examined by a neuropathologist, 110 were found to have CTE. That disease is most commonly caused by repeated blows to the head.
“You cannot change the basic nature of the game,” Costas said at Maryland, via the Washington Post. “I certainly would not let, if I had an athletically gifted 12- or 13-year-old son, I would not let him play football.”
Costas called out those who are trying to ignore the facts around the issue, too, clearly making his stance on the issue known — if that wasn’t obvious before.
“There is this crazy notion that you hear on talk radio and some right-wing sites that this is just another left-wing conspiracy to undermine something that is quintessentially American,” Costas said, via the Washington Post. “There’s a word for things like that, there’s many words. One of them is bulls‑‑‑, because that’s what that is.”
Kickback from his comments
Costas’ comments at Maryland quickly went viral, which prompted NBC to release a statement distancing itself from him.
“Bob’s opinions are his own, and they do not represent those of the NBC Sports Group,” an NBC spokesman said, via ESPN.
That Saturday, Costas went on CNN in an effort to make sure it was known he’s not being critical of NBC. He didn’t, however, soften his stance on football and brain damage.
“I’ve been saying these things for the better part of a decade, and often on NBC, in front of the biggest audience not just in all of sports, but in all of television — ‘Sunday Night Football,'” Costas said on CNN, via ESPN. “And I think NBC Sports deserves credit for this.”
Just an hour later, Costas received the text telling him he had “crossed the line.”
Not soon after, he had been pulled from the Super Bowl broadcast.
“I recall the phrase, ‘It’s a six-hour, daylong celebration of football, and you’re not the right person to celebrate football,'” Costas told ESPN. “To which my response was not, ‘Oh please, please, change your mind.’ My response was, ‘Yeah, I guess you’re right.'”
Costas floated idea to interview Roger Goodell
Instead of feeling punished or being upset, Costas told ESPN he felt relief from being off the broadcast. But, after the news surfaced that he would not be calling the Super Bowl, Costas knew there would be questions.
So he had an idea. He wanted to interview NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
“I was looking out not only for myself, because I’d like to do the interview, but I was also looking out for NBC because that would have taken them off the public relations hook and eliminated all the confusion about them supposedly kicking me to the curb or throwing me under the bus,” Costas told ESPN.
So NBC asked the NFL. Quickly, Goodell shot him down.
Costas said he didn’t know how hard NBC pushed the NFL with the interview request. He had, however, asked to interview Goodell before Super Bowl 49 in 2015, too, and was shot down then.
“It tells you who calls the shots,” Costas told ESPN. “The only business arrangement I can think of where the buyer must continually flatter the seller is the sports TV business. ‘We’re pulling a Brinks armored truck up to Park Avenue, Mr. Goodell. It contains the billions of dollars that we’re going to pay you for the right and privilege to televise your games. But if we’ve delivered them in a denomination that does not please you, we’re terribly sorry, we’ll back the truck up, and we’ll bring it to you in 20s and 50s if that’s the way you’d prefer it.'”
The NFL told ESPN that Goodell has only done one sit-down interview in the past five years with the network airing the Super Bowl, which was for the 50th Super Bowl in 2016. The league also confirmed that it did not ask NBC to remove Costas from the broadcast.
Costas officially stepped down from his role with NBC Sports in January, but said he will continue to do work with the MLB Network and is also pursuing his own long-form interview show.
Yet despite the tumultuous ending to their lengthy partnership, Costas said he has no issue with the network whatsoever.
“It’s very fair and very amicable,” Costas told ESPN of the split with NBC. “It was a very, very fruitful run of nearly four decades, and I have nothing but respect and appreciation for all of it.”
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