Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bob Costas

Bob Costas, America’s Latest Philosopher/Sports Commentator

Howard Cosell was a legendary sports announcer—but anyone familiar with his career knows that he always felt limited by covering sports. Mr. Cosell viewed himself as a Voice of Social Conscience. He believed athletics was generally too trivial for his attention. His ambition was to become the anchor of ABC’s “World News Tonight”—and he contemplated a run for the Senate. By the end of his life, Cosell turned on sports and became a bitter man.

I thought about Cosell after listening to NBC’s Bob Costas deliver his anti-handgun commentary at halftime of Sunday night’s Eagles-Cowboys game. 

Mr. Costas could have set aside a moment of silence during the broadcast to remember those who died (as Costas did during the London Olympics, as a way to honor the Israeli coaches and athletes who were killed in the Munich Olympics 40 years ago). Instead Mr. Costas, in addressing the apparent murder-suicide by the Kansas City Chief’s Jovan Belcher (Belcher killed the mother of his young daughter before killing himself), blasted those who used “that most mindless of sports clichés … Something like this really puts it all in perspective.” Costas went on to say that “those who need tragedies to continually recalibrate their sense of proportion about sports would seem to have little hope of ever truly achieving perspective.”

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Howard Cosell was a legendary sports announcer—but anyone familiar with his career knows that he always felt limited by covering sports. Mr. Cosell viewed himself as a Voice of Social Conscience. He believed athletics was generally too trivial for his attention. His ambition was to become the anchor of ABC’s “World News Tonight”—and he contemplated a run for the Senate. By the end of his life, Cosell turned on sports and became a bitter man.

I thought about Cosell after listening to NBC’s Bob Costas deliver his anti-handgun commentary at halftime of Sunday night’s Eagles-Cowboys game. 

Mr. Costas could have set aside a moment of silence during the broadcast to remember those who died (as Costas did during the London Olympics, as a way to honor the Israeli coaches and athletes who were killed in the Munich Olympics 40 years ago). Instead Mr. Costas, in addressing the apparent murder-suicide by the Kansas City Chief’s Jovan Belcher (Belcher killed the mother of his young daughter before killing himself), blasted those who used “that most mindless of sports clichés … Something like this really puts it all in perspective.” Costas went on to say that “those who need tragedies to continually recalibrate their sense of proportion about sports would seem to have little hope of ever truly achieving perspective.”

America’s philosopher-sports commentator then pointed us to the fountain of wisdom on the murder-suicide—the Kansas City-based writer Jason Whitlock. Costas, in quoting portions of Whitlock’s column, said this:

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, Jovan Belcher’s actions, and their possible connection 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.

Mr. Whitlock, of course, has no idea if that’s true or not. Jovan Belcher could have killed Ms. Perkins some other way—and arguably if she had a gun, Perkins could have preserved her own life and her daughter would not now be an orphan. To the degree that we heard mindless clichés, then, it was when Costas quoted Whitlock.

But my point here isn’t to debate the merits of gun control (an issue on which I don’t have particularly strong feelings). It’s to point out a couple of other things.

The first is that both Costas and Whitlock, in commenting on the murder-suicide, focused on handguns rather than on the man who ruthlessly killed the mother of his daughter before killing himself. It tells you a very great deal when the moral outrage is directed not at the killer but at the weapon.

Beyond that, though, is that Costas seems to be suffering from the early stages of Cosell-ism—the belief that Americans are longing for Costas to use his perch as a sports commentator to offer social commentary. In fact, we’re not. There are plenty of other places we can turn to if we want to hear supercilious and shallow critiques on public policy matters. Most of us don’t believe the host of a sporting event has any particular wisdom to offer us on social policy in the wake of a brutal murder-suicide. And Sunday night, Bob Costas proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt. If he wants to play Bill Moyers, then Costas should host his own program on PBS rather than hijack an NFL halftime show.

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Not One Moment to Remember Munich

In spite of the growing calls for a moment of silence in honor of the 11 Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the head of the International Olympic Committee said yesterday that he would not alter his determination to refuse to allow the issue to intrude upon the opening ceremonies of the London Games this Friday. Jacques Rogge said yesterday that it “was not fit” for a commemoration of Munich to be included in the gala start to the global athletic extravaganza.

This week, President Obama added his voice to those already calling for a moment of silence at the ceremony. Perhaps even more importantly, Bob Costas, NBC television’s Olympic host, has said that he will impose his own moment of silence on the coverage of the event when the Israeli team enters the stadium:

“I intend to note that the IOC denied the request,” Costas said. “Many people find that denial more than puzzling but insensitive. Here’s a minute of silence right now.”

Costas deserves great deal of credit for not allowing the IOC’s desire to keep the memory of Munich out of sight during the games (Rogge said he will attend a ceremony honoring the Munich victims in Germany next week). But while he finds the refusal to simply devote one minute to remembrance “puzzling,” there is no mystery about it. Rogge has called requests for such a memorial “political.” While there is nothing political about recalling the terrorist attack, by that he means that many of the participating nations are not comfortable highlighting a crime committed by Palestinians or honoring the memory of Israeli Jews. As historian Deborah Lipstadt wrote this past week, the controversy is more proof that in the eyes of the world, spilled Jewish blood remains a cheap commodity.

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In spite of the growing calls for a moment of silence in honor of the 11 Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the head of the International Olympic Committee said yesterday that he would not alter his determination to refuse to allow the issue to intrude upon the opening ceremonies of the London Games this Friday. Jacques Rogge said yesterday that it “was not fit” for a commemoration of Munich to be included in the gala start to the global athletic extravaganza.

This week, President Obama added his voice to those already calling for a moment of silence at the ceremony. Perhaps even more importantly, Bob Costas, NBC television’s Olympic host, has said that he will impose his own moment of silence on the coverage of the event when the Israeli team enters the stadium:

“I intend to note that the IOC denied the request,” Costas said. “Many people find that denial more than puzzling but insensitive. Here’s a minute of silence right now.”

Costas deserves great deal of credit for not allowing the IOC’s desire to keep the memory of Munich out of sight during the games (Rogge said he will attend a ceremony honoring the Munich victims in Germany next week). But while he finds the refusal to simply devote one minute to remembrance “puzzling,” there is no mystery about it. Rogge has called requests for such a memorial “political.” While there is nothing political about recalling the terrorist attack, by that he means that many of the participating nations are not comfortable highlighting a crime committed by Palestinians or honoring the memory of Israeli Jews. As historian Deborah Lipstadt wrote this past week, the controversy is more proof that in the eyes of the world, spilled Jewish blood remains a cheap commodity.

The symbolism of a moment of silence for the victims of the Munich crime is important because it again reminds us that the rhetoric about brotherhood and peace that is endlessly spouted during the two-week-long Olympics show is empty talk. As Lipstadt notes, no one could possibly doubt that if there were ever an assault on Western or Third World athletes and coaches at the Olympics, the tragedy would always be prominently remembered at opening ceremonies. The only thing preventing Rogge from acquiescing to what would seem to be a simple and easily satisfied request is that doing so would confer legitimacy on Israel’s presence at the Olympics that most of the world would rather not acknowledge. Nor are many of the nations whose flags will be paraded on Friday night happy about even a second being spent about Jewish victims of Palestinian terror. After all, doing so would be implicitly remind the world that Israel remains the one nation on the planet that is marked for extinction by the hatred of many of its neighbors.

While we think Costas’ stand on the moment of silence has added another reason to consider him one of the most thoughtful voices on television, the IOC’s ongoing refusal ought to give the rest of us a reason to skip the globaloney fest altogether.

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