February 10, 2019

MADDEN WILL SUFFICE:

Bob Costas, unplugged: From NBC and broadcast icon to dropped from the Super Bowl (Mark Fainaru-Wada, 2/10/19, ESPN)

IN DECEMBER 2015, the movie "Concussion" was set for a Christmas Day release in nearly 3,000 theaters across America. The film told the story of the NFL's attempts to discredit research tying brain damage to football, and Bob Costas wanted to address it on national television.

Over the previous decade, Costas had become the face of football on NBC, hosting one of TV's most-watched programs, "Sunday Night Football." As part of every broadcast, Costas would take two minutes at halftime to speak directly to the program's 18 million viewers about the NFL issues of the day. Mostly, his commentaries were celebrations of the sport -- Brady vs. Manning, a tribute to Lambeau Field -- but, occasionally, he addressed subjects like gun control or the controversial name of the Washington, D.C., football team.

With his 28 Emmys and eight National Sportscaster of the Year awards, Costas had become the most-respected broadcaster of his generation -- a kind of Walter Cronkite for sports. He believed it was his responsibility to address uncomfortable truths, or "elephants in the room," as he often called them.

The release of "Concussion" seemed a natural topic given the nationwide awakening about head trauma in contact sports, especially the NFL. Costas believed it was important to have viewers confront football's existential crisis and consider their own moral dilemma as fans complicit to the sport's carnage.

Yet he recognized such a speech posed a challenge for his bosses and NBC. The network was paying the NFL billions to air games on Sunday nights. Even more, Costas knew NBC executives were hoping to expand the network's NFL package to Thursdays.

Costas sent the essay to his bosses for approval, something he typically did not do -- and waited.

What would ensue that week -- and in the years that followed -- reveals for the first time how a broadcasting icon went from fronting America's most popular sport to being excised from last year's Super Bowl and, ultimately, ending his nearly 40-year career with NBC.

Outside the Lines spoke with the 66-year-old Costas dozens of times over the course of the past year. Those conversations provide not only the never-before-told backstory of how he became an NFL outsider, but also deep insight into his personality: the intelligence and self-assurance that have driven his career; the years-long struggle as he reconciled the celebration of a sport that enriched him financially and helped make him a broadcasting icon, but also weighed so heavily on his conscience; and the insecurity and intense worry -- near agony -- about the possibility of betraying his colleagues and friends by sharing his story. All of it points to the all-encompassing influence of the NFL -- even over the most distinguished broadcaster of his era.

Posted by at February 10, 2019 9:37 AM

  

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