The days when Bob Costas was the face of major sports events on NBC have been waning. Now, they may disappear altogether.
Costas and his representatives are in discussions about terminating a contract that runs through 2021, as first reported by the New York Post and USA Today reported this week, with Costas telling USA Today that "what was once a perfect fit no longer fits that description."
Costas, 66, joined NBC Sports in 1979 and has long been a reassuring presence during the Olympics, Super Bowls, World Series and other national events. That role has changed in recent years with the arrival of Mike Tirico from ESPN, and with Costas' increasing interest in providing context and opinion on matters of the moment, such as the NFL's concussion problem and gun violence in America. NBC has not commented on the reports of a pending departure but a source close to the situation confirmed the reports.
"There was a very long period of time when NBC's programming suited my interests and abilities very well, from Later (his late-night talk show) to the news magazines to baseball, the NBA and the Olympics," Costas said. "And after deciding on my own to leave the Olympics after having done a dozen of them, you just look around and say, 'What was once a perfect fit no longer fits that description.' "
Costas worked his 11th Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, but turned over the hosting duties to Tirico starting with the PyeongChang Games in February. Tirico also moved into a Football Night in America role preceding Sunday Night Football games last season, with Costas stepping into a role similar to the one Tom Brokaw has occupied in NBC's news coverage when major events, such as the death of Muhammad Ali, occur.
"They've been kind enough — and it's an honor to even have your name in the same sentence — they've been kind enough to call it the Brokaw phase of my career," Costas said in February 2017. "So I will be to sports what Tom has been for the last several years to news."
Costas, who also does work for the MLB network, still hopes to find a place to do what he does best. According to USA Today, that means having the freedom to "pursue a journalism show that includes news-making interviews and commentaries" and may extend beyond sports. That might allow him to speak freely about controversial topics, as he did after the Chiefs' Jovan Belcher was involved in a murder-suicide in 2012; Costas then delivered a much-discussed prime time commentary about gun control.
He later regretted it, not because of the content, but because 90 seconds wasn't enough time for thoughtful commentary.
"For a long time, I've been wanting to get off my chest my disgust with this idea that every time something tragic happens, no matter what it may be, that in any way touches sports, there's a chorus of people saying, 'you know, this really puts it in perspective.' Which is a bunch of nonsense, because if that was true, we wouldn't have to have that perspective adjusted every time the next tragedy occurs. It's a bunch of nonsense," Costas told The Dan Patrick Show that year. "And what I was trying to say was, that if you want some perspective on this, there are a number of issues related to this that we could begin to talk about and think about. The problem was that I didn't have enough time to get to many of them. And that, I think, was my mistake, to be quite honest, Dan. A friend of mine in broadcasting pointed this out to me yesterday, and I agree with him. He said, 'you violated your own rule.' Because we have had this discussion before: I've always said, if you're going to get into touchy topics, nuanced topics, make sure that you have enough time to flesh them out . . . or save them for forums where you do. In this particular situation, the timeliness of it was, if you're going to comment on it at all, it had to be this Sunday."
In 2014, Costas talked about what he said is a link between "violent behavior" and head injuries. Last year, he spoke about the possibility of a future without football.
"There are issues, including, although it's a serious issue, the protests going on now in the NFL," he said in a University of Maryland symposium. "Those issues come and go. The issue that is most substantial — the existential issue — is the nature of football itself. . . . The nature of football is this: Unless and until there is some technology which we cannot even imagine, let alone has been developed, that would make this inherently dangerous game not marginally safer, but acceptably safe, the cracks in the foundation are there. The day-to-day issues, serious as they may be, they may come and go. But you cannot change the basic nature of the game. I certainly would not let, if I had an athletically gifted 12- or 13-year-old son, I would not let him play football."
And with NBC continuing to be invested in broadcasting football, it might be time for a change. As Costas told the New York Post: "Sometimes you get to a point where it is not a fit anymore. It doesn't mean that anyone is angry or upset."