Former NBC sports commentator Bob Costas says the network pulled him from its football coverage after he criticized the NFL and its handling of the concussion crisis. In an interview with ESPN’s E:60, Costas revealed that NBC executives removed him from its Super Bowl LII broadcast after he spoke at a 2017 journalism symposium. “The reality is that this game destroys people’s brains,” he said during that discussion. After an ensuing series of media appearances, Costas says NBC Sports’ executive producer texted him, “You’ve crossed the line.”
Costas had been at NBC since 1979 and often used his platform to discuss controversial topics. He had covered concussion-related illnesses on Football Night in America before, but the ESPN story notes that NBC nixed a monologue he intended to read during a 2015 Sunday Night Football game relating to the release of the Will Smith movie Concussion. “I remember the reaction almost verbatim,” he tells ESPN. “They said, ‘This is a very well-written piece, wouldn’t change a comma. We can’t air it.’ ” Shortly thereafter, Costas drew ire from NBC executives by mocking the NFL’s “Football is Family” ad campaign in outside interviews.
After his 2017 appearance at the University of Maryland journalism symposium, NBC released a statement saying, “Bob’s opinions are his own, and they do not represent those of the NBC Sports Group.” Costas was subsequently informed that he would not be part of the network’s Super Bowl broadcast at the end of that season, which was already slated to be Costas’ last Sunday Night Football appearance.
“I recall the phrase, ‘It’s a six-hour, daylong celebration of football, and you’re not the right person to celebrate football,’ ” Costas tells ESPN about his conversation with NBC executives. In the fall of last year, Costas and NBC mutually agreed to terms ending his contract with the network.
The E:60 report is buttressed by an ESPN story written by Mark Fainaru-Wada, which details the timeline of big-money contracts between NBC and the NFL. Fainaru-Wada also relays that “NBC declined to license ESPN its footage involving Costas in a video version of this story that aired on E:60.”
In response to Costas’ comments, an NBC spokesperson released a statement to ESPN: “We have historically given our commentators a lot of leeway to speak on our air about issues and controversies, and Bob has benefited most from this policy. We’re very disappointed that after 40 years with NBC, he has chosen to mischaracterize and share these private interactions.”