Whatever you might think of Bob Costas, interviewing him is likely to yield something intriguing. He’s not going to just give a fluff answer to a question. He was asked his opinion on a topic, so he’ll give it.
(The need to share that opinion with the presumption of educating the audience might be part of what chafes a contingent of sports fans.)
With NBC taking over the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package beginning with this week’s New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers matchup, the network held a press luncheon in New York to talk about its upcoming five-game Thursday night slate. Costas was in attendance, as the host of NBC’s TNF pregame show.
During the event, Sporting News’ Michael McCarthy asked how the NFL should handle players protesting by declining to stand during the national anthem. Costas had some thoughts on how both the players could continue to have a voice while fans upset over the protests could possibly be placated.
“It might be more prudent for the league and the teams to say, ‘We will make an organized forum available. You want to state what your position is? We’ll make it available. We’ll have the press there. And if you want to remain in the locker room, remain in the locker room.’ I think you would get more clarity. Player A says, ‘I am staying in the locker room for this reason.’ Player B says, ‘I am staying in the locker room for this reason.’ Player C says, ‘I’m coming out and standing for the anthem for this reason.’ But I’d give them all an opportunity to articulate, in a clear way, what their position is. Rather than have the world wonder.”
Well, that is certainly a suggestion. But is it really a solution? Isn’t the point of a protest to draw attention to the matter to which opposition is being expressed? How would a player attract attention to his gesture and what he is protesting if it takes place away from the sight of fans, media and TV cameras? Isn’t kneeling during the national anthem a far more provocative action, one that makes for compelling television, even if it’s just shown on the screen for a few seconds?
Costas’ proposal works for the NFL in terms of trying to control the situation and perhaps making fans happy. Individual teams might like it, as questions about protests could presumably be avoided in postgame locker room interviews and press conferences.
But what about the players? The media is going to ask them about why they kneeled or raised a fist during the anthem because it happens in plain sight. Otherwise, reporters wouldn’t be doing their jobs. The clarity Costas believes would be gained is there to be gleaned anyway. Look at Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans, who had the opportunity to explain and clarify his national anthem protest directed toward president-elect Donald Trump. Reporters went to ask him about it during the week. A separate room or staged event wasn’t necessary to have that conversation.
A stage where a forum is specifically provided might lend to some elaboration or insight. But would that be covered as thoroughly as a football game? Would media outlets devote the same resources to these separate interviews as postgame remarks? If not, then what would really be accomplished, other than allowing the NFL to put these players in a corner while the games are being played and promoted?
However, at least Costas attempted a solution here, trying to come up with a compromise between demanding that players show respect for the national anthem and players attempting to bring attention to minority oppression and police brutality. Yet even if he was asked how the NFL should handle this issue, his proposal comes off as more friendly to the league than its players. Yes, Costas has to be something of a shill for the NFL as a host for NBC’s coverage. But this is one situation where he doesn’t have to play that role.