I have high standards for sports broadcasters, a natural consequence of having grown up in St. Louis, Missouri, listening to Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Joe Garagiola, Dan Kelly and others. I heard Eli Gold call St. Louis Blues hockey games almost a decade before he ever did an Alabama football game. Another was Bob Costas, who began his professional career calling games of the Spirits of St. Louis of the defunct American Basketball Association. I well remember sports fans calling in to mega radio station KMOX to complain madly about this kid from New York who had the temerity at the time to hold Mickey Mantle in higher regard than Stan Musial. I thought, whoa, this kid’s career is over before it even started. Umm, not quite so, as four decades later Costas departs NBC Sports (by buyout) as its icon of football and Olympic coverage. A lot of sports fans liked Costas … as long he stuck to sports. Which he didn’t. On air, he broached issues such as gun control, Russian politics, offensive mascots and — an issue that needs as much airing as possible — the dangers of head injuries in football. Sports and politics have always intersected, and always will. It’s not merely because sports figures and broadcasters have an immense platform they could use for advocacy if they wish. It’s because sports are part of society’s fabric, and so they reflect its ills and divides. As long as some athletes engage in guns and violence and get coddled for their crimes, as long as Olympic committees make horrific choices of hosts, as long as games mentally and physically cripple some athletes for the sake of someone else’s money and entertainment, reputable sports journalists such as Costas will want to at least occasionally make us pause the fun and escapism to consider the serious issues before our eyes. And that isn’t always popular or easy. Costas did it, though, and that is despite his network owning broadcast rights purchased from the very leagues or organizations he criticized. Usually, especially on the regional and local levels, nothing can squelch necessary sports commentary quite like a business relationship.
DISCLAIMER: Opinions represent those of no one but me. And if I change my mind, then they don’t represent me either.
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