Bob Costas Responds to My Criticism of His NBC Segment on Penn State

Paging Football Coach Bob Ladouceur and Officials at De La Salle High School
November 16, 2011
‘We Are All Penn State’ (full text)
November 17, 2011

Through his executive assistant Pam Davis, Bob Costas this morning emailed me comments on my remarks here about his closing commentary Monday on NBC’s RockCenter. (For background, see “My Twitter Exchange With New York Times Columnist Harvey Araton re Costas and Penn State,”, and “Harvey Araton: New York Times Spiked My Column on Penn State Football,”

My response to Costas, in bold, is below his.


Irv,  Saw your exchange with Harvey.  Went back and watched my exchange with Williams a second time.  How anyone could term that a whitewash of Penn State as an institution is beyond me.  There are many aspects to this story.  Certainly more than what that timeframe allowed.  In the brief time I had,  I said that this is the worst scandal in college sports history, and that the honor of the institution and the football program had been betrayed.  But, also correctly and relevantly noted, that part of what gives this story additional resonance is that it happened at a place, which by and large had done things right relative to the general state of big time college sports.  Perfectly – no.  But generally better than okay – yes.  That does not diminish the severity of what happened, or the culpability of those who could, and should have stopped it.  Are there yahoos in and around Penn State who think the real tragedy is what happened to Paterno and the football program?  Sure.  But to think that most who enjoyed and took pride in their team, and their school, are of that sensibility is just wrong.  For the record, I have frequently spoken of what I believed to be the fundamental corruption of big time college sports.  I am no defender or apologist for the general state of affairs.  But part of what makes this story so fascinating and so awful is that it happened at a place, which in many respects,  was an exception to much of what we rightly decry.  In any story or situation there are those who will always choose to view misdeeds, mistakes, and the darkest aspects as definitive.   And, any more positive aspects, even those that are part of the historical context, to be bogus or largely irrelevant.  There are those always inclined to believe that the harshest and most undifferentiated criticisms are the most honest and truthful.  My own experience has taught me otherwise, and has led me to favor healthy skepticism over mere cynicism.

I generally shy away from on-going exchanges with you, or someone like Matt Chaney.  Part of it is my own time constraints, but another part is an unwillingness to jump into what I see as a kind of trick bag.  Blanket condemnations and scorched earth criticisms generally don’t appeal to me.   Not because I am timid, but because generally, they strike me as off target. To me there is a distinction between a reasonable difference of opinion, or a valid critique, and the views of the perpetual outsider – who will always view himself and his opinion as coming from a more honest place than someone like myself.  Consider Chaney, who without a thimble’s worth of convincing evidence has theorized that Mantle and Maris were on steroids in 1961.  Forgive me if I don’t place this in the category of courageous truth telling.  To someone with Chaney’s world view, and perhaps to a lesser extent, yours – the only possible explanation for not seeing things as they do, is that the other person must somehow be bought off, and is “slick” and complicit.  Hence, the whole exercise starts and ends in the wrong place – and so for me, it ends here.    Again, after re-watching the closing exchange with Williams, I really have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.

Bob Costas


Thanks, Bob (and Pam). I’ll publish your statement.
Chaney said Maris and Mantle were on steroids? I missed that, but I’ll ask him. In any case, I don’t agree with everything Matt says either, but I admire his inability to be bland and I am proud to be his friend, as well as his colleague in sports journalism.
To be clear, I don’t think there’s much wrong with what you said in particular to Williams — only with the order and context of your presentation. (Though I do not accept the premise and assumption that Penn State was, before this scandal, extraordinarily clean, and I have stated so and why, in some specifics.) By ending the segment with what, in my view, was a misplaced or certainly an overemphasized note of sympathy for Penn State’s fans, you diminished the good work of your Sandusky interview and “put yourself over.” This is the way of network broadcast news. Your overall body of work is better than the industry norm in this respect. I disagree with you here, but I do appreciate the courtesy and thoroughness of your response.
All best,

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