• Sumo

By Ken Reed

“The reality is that this game destroys people’s brains — not everyone’s, but a substantial number.”

That sentence from legendary sportscaster Bob Costas about the dangers of football, ended his time covering football at NBC, and ultimately, ended his 40-year career at the network.  

Costas has long followed the growing mound of research on football, concussions, repetitive sub-concussive blows to the brain, and the progressive neurological brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).  For nearly a decade, he has offered short commentaries on television about the dangers of the game.  But after seeing the movie “Concussion,” starring Will Smith, in December 2015, Costas stepped up his criticism.  He decided, in order to have a clear conscience, he needed to speak truth to power.  In this case, the power was the National Football League (NFL), the most powerful entity in sports — and beyond.

“Look, the NFL isn’t just the most important sports property, it’s the single-most important property in all of American television,” said Costas.  “And it isn’t even close.” 

As such, the networks, like NBC, that have broadcasting rights deals with the NFL are terrified about making NFL power brokers angry.

“The networks, all of them, dance to the NFL’s tune,” said Costas.  “It’s just kind of the way it goes.  Everyone walks on eggshells around the NFL.”

The NFL received more than $7 billion from its television partners this season.  It’s projected that number could reach $17 billion by 2027.

Costas is a member of the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame and an eight-time National Sportscaster of the Year.   His broadcasting credits include the Super Bowl, Olympics, World Series, NBA Finals, Kentucky Derby and more.  As Mark Fainaru-Wada wrote on this topic in his long-form piece for ESPN this past weekend, “Costas had become the most-respected broadcaster of his generation — a kind of Walter Cronkite for sports.”

No matter.  The NFL didn’t like Costas bashing their cash cow and NBC didn’t like their ace broadcaster risking the company’s relationship with the NFL.

“I decided long ago that I had misgivings about football, and I tried to use the forum they gave me to make those points,” said Costas.  “They gave me bits and pieces, but eventually they took those bits and pieces away from me.”

But he said what needed to be said, and he continues to do so, as evidenced by his interviews with ESPN regarding his departure from NBC.  

“A friend of mine said, ‘Whether it’s news or sports, you can never go wrong being on the right side of history.’”

Costas is on the right side of history, and despite his misgivings about speaking out about the details of his departure from NBC, and his worries about offending old colleagues and friends at NBC, he did the right thing.  His high profile status in the world of sports has helped cultivate more awareness and understanding in our culture about the dangers of football to the human brain.

That’s a good thing for football players of all ages around the country, and especially for the parents of youth and high school athletes who are not yet 18 years old, and thus, not of the age of consent regarding their participation in such a violent and dangerous activity.

“Here’s the truth,” said Costas.  “America’s most popular sport is a fundamentally dangerous game where the risk of catastrophic injury is not incidental, it is significant.”

Kudos to you Mr. Costas for having the courage to come out and speak the truth about the dangers of football, as well as the power and influence of the NFL in the United States.

— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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