There are very few figures in sports broadcasting more respected than Bob Costas. His versatility is extraordinary (he has been part of broadcasts for every “Big 4″ sport, and is a fixture of Olympic coverage) and his work is spectacular (there is reason why he has won nearly 20 Sports Emmy Awards). Why is he so successful? The same reason why any sportscaster is — when he talks, people listen. It should not come as a surprise then, that Costas’ remarks about gun control during NBC’s Sunday Night Football broadcast have turned into a national news story (Costas broached the topic in reaction to the suicide of former Kansas City Chief Jovan Belcher). There are few topics that stir up more debate than sports, but politics may be one of them, and Costas has been under fire from the public (or at least half of it). I have little interest in publicly joining the debate about gun control. I want discuss a different debate though: is it a sports commentator’s role to address issues that are, at their core, wholly unrelated to sports?
This is actually not the first time I have addressed this idea. In a previous post, I commented on ESPN having its analysts debate whether the New York City Marathon should have been run in the wake of Hurricane Sandy (it was not). My take, ultimately, was that it was a) inevitable that these stories would be covered by sports outlets, and b) that, if they were addressed properly, with the appropriate experts, there was nothing wrong with the coverage.
That situation though, was distinctly different from the one surrounding Costas’ comments. First of all, “a” is simply not true in this case. If Costas had not made those comments, the subject of gun control most likely never would have been addressed in a sports outlet (even with Costas’ comments, other sources have not picked up the debate). Secondly, “b” does not apply here either: Costas is not an “expert” on gun control, nor are the guests (John McEnroe and Charles Barkley) he later had on his show, “Costas Tonight”, to discuss the issue. Yes, the gun control debate might be particularly relevant to professional athletes (we often hear of athletes getting into trouble with firearms); but on the whole, professional athletes constitute such a small fraction of the problem that it is simply ridiculous to frame the debate in such a way.
Costas is a very smart man and I, for one, admire him. I don’t, however, care about his opinion on gun control. The old saying goes, never talk politics or religion at the dinner table. Let’s amend that: never talk politics or religion at the dinner table– or during the football game.