Bob Costas

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Keidel: NFL Must Embrace Transparency About CTE

League's Silencing Of Bob Costas Was Unfair And Wrong

Jason Keidel
February 12, 2019 - 1:43 pm
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Our favorite sports don't just provide memories but also a soundtrack, a person whose voice has given us a sprawling narrative of competition and athletic splendor. From Howard Cosell to Vin Scully to Al Michaels, we've had the best broadcasters beamed into our living rooms for decades. 

Bob Costas is among the greats who was there for many of those indelible moments.  Costas ended his iconic career with NBC a year ago, a relationship that all insist was mutually wonderful. 

The final stroke of Costas's broadcasting artistry was supposed to be Super Bowl LII between the Eagles and Patriots. There isn't a bigger event in our outsized culture, nor is there ever a bigger audience then that watching pro football's biggest game. 

Yet right before Costas was to flex his pipes one final time, the NFL asked him to pass on their signature game. Surely it was more than a question or suggestion from the league. It was likely a direct order to have Costas pulled because he had an opinion and those aren't allowed unless you are a blind, smiling NFL apologist. 

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Costas had the gall to chat about the deleterious effects of our favorite sport - specifically concussions and the CTE that has been diagnosed in 110 of 111 former NFL players whose brains were donated to science by the time Costas was about to grace one more Super Bowl with his eloquence and intelligence. 

The NFL didn't balloon into our biggest game and TV program by being silly, ignorant or childish. But they are checking each box when it comes to this topic. And it started well before they snatched the microphone from Costas. 

History has proved over and over that denial is the final and fatal crime, not the first transgression. Had the NFL flashed the kind of candor we expect from our extended family, we would not be in this exact spot. But instead of coming forward with their data on the damage football inflicts on the human head, they tried subterfuge until they were exposed. 

The NFL has this warped worldview in which you can't worship the NFL and still wonder if you (or your children) should play it. As an NFL junkie since 1977, I can't imagine this world, or my life, without the autumnal sites, sounds and pageantry of pro football. The gridiron was an oasis for countless kids who grew up during the NFL's explosion in the 1970s and '80s, when it booted baseball from the throne as our favorite sport and lapped basketball in TV ratings.

But the league hasn't learned that transparency, not paranoia, is what keeps fans in the fold. 

It's true that youth football participation is down, and surely brain trauma is a big reason for that. But the NFL hasn't considered one vital variable. Maybe it's not just the specter of brain damage, but also the NFL's inability to be honest about it. Perhaps parents are nudging their kids to baseball or basketball because they lack trust, not information. 

Does anyone doubt that Bob Costas enjoys football? Does anyone doubt those of us who consider the NFL our brand of a Sunday religious service? A hallmark of loving anything or anyone is our freedom to ask questions. We wonder whether a team should run or pass on second down, whether they should blitz on third down, and spend days after Sundays chatting about the adrenaline-draining realities of the games we watch. 

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The notion of violent sports short-circuiting the human brain is hardly new. A century ago they called it punch-drunk, a term reserved for boxers who took too many blows to the jaw over years of prizefighting. It didn't stop Ray Robinson or Muhammad Ali from blessing us with their balletic boxing skills.  It didn't blunt boxing's halcyon years of the 1970s or the Four Kings (and later Mike Tyson) owning the '80s. There just isn't enough money in the sport to risk the damage and attract the best athletes, who are now being poached by team sports.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell keeps spiking his PR Kool-Aid with silence and semantics. Not only did the NFL's czar get Costas canned right before the Super Bowl, he also refused to simply sit with Costas for one last interview, wouldn't even offer him a consolation prize for 40 years of broadcasting brilliance. 

Much of this is laid out on a Yahoo.com report posted a few days ago. For his part, Costas has kept it classy. Rather than wrestle with the NFL's pit bulls, he bowed out with the expected grace. 

The NFL needs a rewiring. They don't get that keeping we who adore the game in the dark wrecks them when the lights flash on every Sunday, Monday and Thursday in September through December. Democracy isn't the only thing that dies in darkness. 

It's time they stop seeing concerned citizens as antagonists. You can love a person, or a sport, and still ask questions, express concerns and solve problems. The NFL has to stop making the decision for us, and make it with us.

Twitter: @JasonKeidel