Bob Costas has long been vocal about the devastating physical effects of football, but after telling a 2017 journalism symposium that the game causes severe harm to a “considerable number” of players, Costas says NBC kicked him off the Super Bowl broadcast over fears of damaging the network’s relationship with the NFL.
ESPN’s Outside the Lines traces Costas’s discomfort with both the brutality of the game and the NFL’s attempts to downplay it. After seeing the 2015 film Concussion, Costas penned a short essay for his halftime segment that read, in part:
“Even as the ratings rise, so, too, does a certain ambivalence. Because as much as we may try to push it into the background, there’s a kind of Russian roulette going on on the field tonight and on our television screens throughout the fall and winter, since we know that for all the game’s appeal, many of its participants will one day pay dearly for their part in our national obsession.”
He says NBC scrapped what they called “a very well-written piece” for fear of offending the NFL, which signed a $600 million deal with NBC in 2005 granting the rights to air Sunday night games. According to Costas, staying on the good side of the NFL is the only way for major networks to stay alive: “The NFL isn’t just the most important sports property, it’s the single-most important property in all of American television. And it isn’t even close.”
So when Costas appeared before 400 people at the 2017 Shirley Povich Symposium at the University of Maryland to tell them “The reality is that this game destroys people’s brains — not everyone’s, but a substantial number. It’s not a small number, it’s a considerable number. It destroys their brains,” the network wasn’t thrilled.
And after he appeared on CNN to reiterate those claims, he was out of the Super Bowl broadcast.
Costas has expressed other misgivings with the league. For example, he was publicly critical of the “Football Is Family” campaign the NFL launched to counter rampant allegations of players committing acts of domestic and sexual violence. Costas described the players as “acting like creeps and criminals.”
In his interviews with ESPN, Costas was worried about appearing too critical of NBC colleagues but explained that his problems with football were nothing new:
“I am not a Howard Cosell at the end of his career deciding he doesn’t like boxing,” Costas says. “I decided long ago that I had misgivings about football, and I tried to use the forum they gave me to make those points. They gave me bits and pieces, but eventually they took those bits and pieces away from me.”