Hosts can address meaningful societal issues

Posted Dec. 19, 2012 @ 12:03 p.m.
Posted By Barry Jackson

Opining on social issues, during NFL broadcasts, can be quite dicey for sportscasters. But that slippery slope hasn’t deterred several from doing so in the wake of the murder/suicide of Kansas City Chief Javon Belcher and Josh Brent’s drunk driving incident that left Cowboys teammate Jerry Brown dead.

NBC’s Bob Costas, when referencing a column by Fox Sports’ Jason Whitlock, precipitated a firestorm when he implied, during a halftime essay, that gun control would help prevent situations such as Belcher’s. “If Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today,” Costas said.

But CBS’ James Brown elicited virtually no reaction when he linked violent behavior to profane language in music videos, because, well, that topic isn’t nearly as explosive or controversial or polarizing as gun control.  

“Three women per day — on average — are being killed by their husbands or boyfriends,” Brown said during Week 14 on “The NFL Today.” “That means that since Kasandra Perkins’ death last Saturday, at least 21 more women have met the same fate. … Profane language in music, the locker room or anywhere else that degrades or devalues women could contribute to attitudes or beliefs that are destructive and potentially violent.

“A 2006 study demonstrated … teenagers can successfully change their attitudes and behaviors toward women. But why can’t more of us grown men do that as well?”

Some who criticized Costas suggested that commenting on a social issue wasn’t appropriate for an NFL broadcast. But would they also say that about Brown’s essay? Or would their perspective be skewed because they agree with Brown but not with Costas?

The view here: There is nothing objectionable with addressing meaningful social issues in a thoughtful way during NFL coverage, provided the matter is timely. Where Costas self-admittedly erred is leaving his comments “open to misinterpretation” and not having enough time to specifically explain and justify his position.



• ESPN made the right call by suspending commentator Rob Parker for his ignorant and inflammatory remarks about Robert Griffin III this past week. Griffin, answering a question about race, said he did not want to be defined as an African-American quarterback, which prompted Parker to spew this nonsense:

“My question is: ‘Is he a brother or is he cornball brother?’ He’s black, he does his thing, but he’s not really down with the cause. He’s not one of us. He’s kind of black, but he’s not really like the kind of guy you really want to hang out with.” To support his case, Parker foolishly mentioned Griffin has a white fiancée.

Stephen A. Smith wisely said: “I’m uncomfortable with where we just went” and his “ethnicity … is none of our business.”

• What in the world was Fox’s Terry Bradshaw talking about in Week 15 when he said: “I don’t know what’s wrong with Christian Ponder, but whatever it is, it’s hard to pronounce.”

• Love those miked-up segments on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL.” Where else could you hear Bengals QB Andy Dalton complaining, during a game, about the NFL not building restrooms for players on sidelines?

• Excellent work by CBS’ Brown on his respectful but tough interview of Anthony Hargrove about the bounty case — days before Paul Tagliabue vacated all of the player suspensions. Brown and Costas consistently distinguish themselves as the best interviewers among NFL hosts.

• When Bill Cowher is the subject of coaching rumors, CBS justifiably asks him to address them on the air. ESPN either cannot be bothered to do that with Jon Gruden or is afraid doing so might upset him.


Barry Jackson covers sports media for the Miami Herald and Pro Football Weekly.