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Published: Friday, 2/20/2009

A conversation with Bob Costas

BY PATRICIA SHERIDAN
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

As a 27-year veteran of NBC Sports, the award-winning sportscaster Bob Costas has seen it all. World Series, Super Bowls, Olympics, you name it, he's covered it. During the 2008 Summer Olympics he conducted a hard-hitting interview with former President George Bush, touching on human rights and other issues. He is also the author of the bestseller Fair Ball: A Fan's Case for Baseball.

QYou have done many engaging interviews with people outside the world of sports. Is that a direction you would like to go in eventually?

A I don't think it's a matter of eventually, but at various times in my career there have been opportunities to blend that with sports. So I see it more as something I would integrate with sports material rather than leaving sports.

QI'm curious. What is your impression of [former] President Bush, especially after your Beijing interview?

AI've known President Bush for a long time prior to that. I knew him even before he was Governor Bush when he owned the Texas Rangers. He and I always had a cordial relationship that centered around baseball. In the first few months of his administration I was at the White House three times. On a personal level, I always got along with President Bush very well.

QYes, but he looked a little shocked once you started asking the questions.

A: I don't think he was shocked. He did not know what exactly to expect. I thought it was pertinent and appropriate. Afterward he was just as cordial as he had been coming in. I have to give him a lot of credit. He was extremely generous with his time. Certainly there were no hard feelings when it was over.

Q: Where do you stand on college football playoffs?

A: The form it would take is subject to debate. There are drawbacks with any system, but the present system is pretty close to a crapshoot. One issue that is significant - and I think it is the most significant - is if you are going to involve eight teams in a playoff, then obviously the teams that get to the championship game will have played, in effect, three bowl games. The attendance at bowl games is dependent upon, in large part, on fans of those teams traveling to the games. Fans of those teams are not going to travel to three games. They are going to travel to one. You could have an attendance issue there. Other than that, I don't see what the problem is.

Q: Do you think some of the problems with baseball today is simply that we have romanticized the game?

A: No, I don't think so. I think the game has progressed. There have been a lot of changes, some for the better, some not so. All World Series games are at night. I think it doesn't make sense to start some games as late as they do and to never play a day game, but the game has changed over time. One of the things that markets best in baseball is nostalgia and history. One of the most popular things over the last 10 or 15 years is retro ball parks.

Q: Why tear down Yankee Stadium? Was there no way to make money on this historic site?

A: They were already making plenty of money out of it. They drew more than 4 million fans [a year]. What the issue was is that the Yankees saw a way to make even more money through a new stadium with luxury boxes and club seats. It's totally about money. That doesn't mean, by the way, that the new Yankee Stadium won't be magnificent.

Q: How key is the owner/player relationship to cleaning up baseball or any sport when it comes to betting or steroids?

A: I think that relationship is very important. Owner/player and also commissioner. One of the problems for baseball over the years was that the relationship between ownership and the commissioner's office and the players and the Baseball Players Association was so adversarial that it sometimes became difficult for them to see where their mutual interests were. There will always appropriately be some debate and some conflict over economic issues. But when it came to issues like steroids, I think the players association had become so used to reflexively opposing anything that ownership proposed that they actually for a long time turned a blind eye to the best interest of the majority of their own constituents. Assuming most of them are clean, then the players association was putting them in a ridiculous position. Compete at a competitive disadvantage or be forced to cheat just to keep up.

Q: Speaking of owners and players, the Rooneys who own the Pittsburgh Steelers seem to have a special relationship [with their team] compared to other NFL teams.

A: I think that's true. The patriarch, Art Rooney, was a special man. He was beloved, and he was a straight shooter. I think that Dan Rooney has run the team in the same way. He is one of the most respected people in the National Football League. They've had continuity from [Chuck] Noll to [Bill] Cowher and now [Mike] Tomlin. All of them have been good. None of them have been fly-by-night. You know the fan support, the whole way this franchise has been run, is close to a model. Dan Rooney gets a lot of credit for being at the forefront of trying to expand minority hiring with the Rooney rule. That has to increase the respect that he gets from players, more than half of whom are African-American. Rooney had the right idea. If you increase the pool possibilities, a lot of the best candidates will, as a natural consequence of that, be black. He proves that with his own team. I think Steelers have been both a model of tradition and in their own way progressive. That's a good combination.

Q: Other than the Olympics, why haven't women's sports been able to generate interest and income? Is it cultural?

A: Tennis, at various times, the women's side has been just as appealing as the men's. The real focus of fan interest is team sports. They are already established, so it's hard for any new league or enterprise to crack that. It's really what is entrenched in terms of spectator sports rather than blatant sexism. There is only so much time and money to go around if you are a sports fan.

Q: Do you ever see a day when women can play on men's professional teams?

A: I don't see why not. It's a very high bar to clear. Are there women who are better athletes then 99.9 percent of all American men? Absolutely. But what you are talking about in the NFL or the NBA or major league baseball is a tiny, tiny fraction of the 99th percentile, you know? I have no philosophical problem with it. I think it would be fascinating.

Q: Finally, do either of your children want to go into broadcasting?

A: No, my daughter, who is a freshman at Boston College, wants to be a writer, but not a sportswriter, and my son who has majored in communications and sports management wants to do something in sports, but not be a broadcaster. He loves sports but he doesn't see himself in the booth.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Patricia Sheridan is a writer for the Post-Gazette.

Contact her at: psheridan@post-gazette.com.



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