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Ben Frederickson: Costas as an outsider should scare the NFL

If you had any remaining reasons to doubt the extent of the NFL’s effort to smother any and all truth-tellers it can exert its significant influence upon, please read this fascinating ESPN Outside the Lines piece about NFL business partner NBC’s not-so-subtle blocking of broadcasting legend Bob Costas.

The Reader’s Digest version is that NBC decided it could not allow Costas, who had become increasingly outspoken about that whole concussion problem, to continue to inject his “opinions” into the NBC broadcasts of NFL games.

So, NBC pulled Costas from the Super Bowl, a significant milestone in his split with the network altogether.

Now that it’s over, Costas decided to talk, and it’s fascinating stuff. He went out of his way in the Outside the Lines piece to praise NBC. His problem, it seems, is with football.

“I am not a Howard Cosell at the end of his career deciding he doesn’t like boxing,” Costas told Outside the Lines. “I decided long ago that I had misgivings about football, and I tried to use the forum they gave me to make those points. They gave me bits and pieces, but eventually they took those bits and pieces away from me.”

The breakup between Costas and football was years in the making.

“The reality is that this game destroys people’s brains,” Costas said during a 2017 sports symposium that went viral and irked both NBC and the NFL.

“Bob’s opinions are his own, and they do not reflect those of the NBC Sports group,” responded NBC at the time.

“So, I guess that NBC is not sure whether there is a connection between football and brain trauma,” Costas told Outside the Lines in a video interview. “And I imagine the next press release is, ‘It’s still open to question whether or not the earth is round or flat.’ “

What you are reading is a face and voice synonymous with sports in America asking you to see the NFL’s warts in full. It’s refreshing for those who have decided to do the same. It’s infuriating for those who choose to ignore the warts, especially those who make a lot of money by doing it.

Costas can’t take down the NFL. He might not even want to try. But he could become the league’s most well-known and well-spoken critic, if he chooses to take that route. That possibility should give NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell heartburn.

It is hilarious that the block-headed NFL, which of course exerts influence over NBC and every other broadcast partner, did not seem to realize that Costas could be much more dangerous as an outspoken, independent critic. But the NFL’s playbook is clear by now. Smother the opposition, no matter how much bad PR is created in the process.

The NFL once pressured ESPN to cancel a show that hit a little too close to home. It once nixed a partnership with PBS that investigated the sport’s connection to brain trauma and disease. If you don’t think NBC’s business negotiations with the NFL did not impact Costas’ relationship with his former employer, read the Outside the Lines piece, then wake up.

“The networks, all of them, dance to the NFL’s tune,” Costas told Outside the Lines. “It’s just kind of the way it goes. Everyone walks on eggshells around the NFL.”

Costas, a titan in his industry, is off the eggshells.

That’s scarier for the league than when he worked for NBC.

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Bob Costas attends the Friar's Club Entertainment Icon Award at The Ziegfeld Ballroom in New York, NY, on November 12, 2018. (Anthony Behar/Sipa USA/TNS)

Bob Costas attends the Friar’s Club Entertainment Icon Award at The Ziegfeld Ballroom in New York, NY, on November 12, 2018. (Anthony Behar/Sipa USA/TNS)

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