Longtime sportscaster Bob Costas brought three decades of sports experience to the Kalb Report Monday night at the National Press Club.
Best known for his coverage of seven Olympic Games with NBC, Costas and host Marvin Kalb discussed changes to the business side of sports in a conversation peppered with player names and statistics. The famed analyst said as team budgets increase to attract bigger names, the nature of sports changed as well.
“It was never just a game,” Costas said. “But there was a time when the sports aspect was at least tied with business aspect.”
Costas, a self-described supporter of players’ rights, said he does not take an issue with the multi-million dollar salaries professional athletes demand. He said he draws the line, however, when a player or his agent has a sense of entitlement that eclipses respect for fans and the integrity of the sport.
The sportscaster said as the amount of money involved in sports increases, there is a perceived drop in ethics.
“The most extreme, aberrant behavior gets the most attention and is taken to be typical,” he said.
While Costas said not all professional athletes behave poorly, he noted the recent news surrounding baseball star Manny Ramirez, who “couldn’t even remember which knee he was supposed to be faking an injury.”
Costas also discussed his experiences at the Beijing Olympics, which he broadcasted to millions worldwide, as a “smash television success.” He disagreed with Kalb’s suggestion that he may have been “the front man for a vast promotional enterprise.”
“The events covered in primetime were of legitimate interest,” Costas said, citing the excitement surrounding swimmer Michael Phelps, who won eight medals in the 2008 Summer Games.
He also defended his employer when Kalb said The New York Times claimed NBC’s coverage was “antiquated” since the network tried to prevent its most popular footage from appearing online before it aired on television. Costas said the events that were of most interest to viewers were scheduled in the morning in Beijing, but they aired live in primetime on the East Coast.
Costas said he was satisfied that these games contained “at least a dollop of journalism,” although he said he would have liked to see more.
“I host the Olympics; I don’t produce the Olympics,” Costas said. “We did not do enough around the social, political and economic circumstances (in China).”
He said, however, print media including The New York Times and The Washington Post did a better job of “pulling the curtain back” on the issues in China than other news organizations like NBC.
In describing his preparation for an Olympics broadcast, Costas said that he’s learned to distinguish the important information from the meaningless.
“You need to be a good generalist. You don’t need to know the best springboard diver from Peru,” he said.
He said only about two percent of all of the reading he did on the history of the Olympics and China actually made it on the air.
Costas contrasted this with the preparation required for a game seven of the World Series, which does not require history as much as it requires staying right on top of the action.
“The whole season has fed into this moment,” he said. “It’s all about the drama.”