Bob Costas has been named the National Sportscaster of the Year eight times by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. He's won the same award four times from the American Sportscasters Association. He's won awards named after legends in his industry, Curt Gowdy and Dick Schaap. He's a 20-time Emmy Award winner, and has hosted NBC's coverage of the Olympic Games for two decades.
Bob Costas matters. His words and opinions matter. In early-December, in the wake of the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide, Costas unexpectedly spoke for a minute and a half on the merits of gun control, and engendered a strong reaction from the conservative political community.
Simply put, Bob Costas has been the voice of American sports for a generation. That's why his public comments about the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal have been significant.
On November 14, 2011, just ten days after the story first made national headlines, Costas conducted the first (and perhaps last) interview with Jerry Sandusky on national television for NBC's Rock Center news magazine program. On July 15, 2012, Costas made headlines again on NBC's Meet the Press, where he called for Penn State to voluntarily shut down his the football program for one year in light of the findings of the Freeh Report, which proclaimed that Penn State administrators, most notably head football coach Joe Paterno, former University President Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and Vice President Gary Schultz, conspired to conceal Sandusky's criminal conduct.
Those comments from Costas received significant press. They are the kinds of comments from the kind of person that is capable of shaping public opinion. They were definitive and decisive.
Apparently, they were also wrong.
Last week, Costas appeared on Kevin Slaten's radio show on KQQZ 1190 AM in St. Louis. Slaten has long been a Penn State defender, and had encouraged Costas to carefully consider the contents of the Freeh Report in order to have a lengthy discussion. Costas obliged.
"What Freeh did, it seems to me, was not only gather facts but he reached a conclusion which is at least debatable from those facts and than he assigned a motivation, not only to Curley and Schultz and Spanier, but he specifically assigned a very dark motivation to Joe Paterno, which seems like it might be quite a leap."
"If people are able to go over the response that the Paterno family has marshaled, including with Dick Thornburgh, a person with at least the credentials of Louis Freeh, a reasonable person will at least conclude that there is some doubt here and that the other side of the story deserves to be heard."
This isn't exactly the first time that Costas has walked back his Meet the Press proclamation. On October 10th, Costas appeared on Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio and told the hosts that he was reviewing the Freeh Report a second time, noting that there were "credible people" who disagreed with it. But that public statement was nothing like the Slaten interview, where Costas compared Freeh's report to an indictment and made the case that Freeh's group had spoken mostly with "people [who] were quite peripheral to the case."
Yes, Bob Costas made Sandusky scandal headlines yet again with his appearance on Kevin Slaten's radio show. Unfortunately, those headlines have been limited to Penn State student news blog Onward State and PennLive.com.
It's time for Bob Costas to stand up and be counted.
For the past sixteen months, those who dared to defend Penn State in the face of Jerry Sandusky's horrific crimes have been derided as Joe Paterno sycophants who care more about preserving their disturbing football-obsessive culture than protecting children from a sociopathic predator.
It would be foolish to argue that Penn State extremists don't exist. There are a small (and fading) number of people who believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Jerry Sandusky is innocent of the crimes committed. There are a small (and fading) number of people who believe that the actions taken by Joe Paterno after he received a report from Mike McQueary were the best and only response.
But there are a significant number of people who believe that an institution's critics should read the 200-plus page report before forming an opinion, not just the three page press release. There are a significant number of people who believe that an institution's critics should look at the good it has done before disparaging its "culture." There are a significant number of people who believe as Joe Posnanski does - that Joe Paterno "did a lot of good in his life and . . . he did make a tragic mistake."
Those people have found a home in this community. It is the largest Penn State sports blog on the Internet. On a routine day, it is viewed 20,000 times. Its writers and contributors have appeared on national television and radio. Its contributors and members helped a grassroots organization raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for child abuse victims.
And yet despite all of those wonderful things, it holds virtually no sway over national public opinion.
Bob Costas, though, is the voice of American sports. He is credible for the nation at large. And now, after telling a nation last summer that Penn State needs to get its house in order, Bob Costas' opinion has changed. It's identical to mine and a significant number of Penn Staters.
And the only people who know are in the 22nd largest radio market in the country.
I'm thankful for open-minded people who are willing to change their views when they are persuaded by evidence and reason. I'm thankful that Bob Costas no longer relies on the briefing from an NBC producer and has read the Freeh Report for himself. I'm grateful for the opportunity it presents. The opportunity for Bob Costas, the voice of American sports, to raise the issue on NBC Sports Network's Costas Tonight, and Rock Center, and Meet the Press. Debate the facts and let the chips fall where they may.
Stand up and be counted, Bob Costas. A community is counting on you.
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