The foremost interviewer in sports broadcasting spent two hours last night on the other end of the microphone, fielding questions from an audience nearly 400 strong.
NBC Sports broadcaster Bob Costas kept the wall-to-wall spectators in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall rapt and laughing as he discussed the state of sports and the media, shared his experiences and told stories from 25-plus years of sportscasting.
Fresh off covering his eighth Olympic Games in Vancouver in February, Costas visited Yale at the behest of the Yale Undergraduate Sports Entertainment Society — following a two-year campaign to bring him to campus. Costas agreed to waive his typical $50,000 speaking fee.
Costas shared prepared remarks for about 15 minutes before opening the floor to questions. He provided humorous accounts of meeting people such as mobster John Gotti in a restaurant in Little Italy and struggled to recall a story of Mickey Mantle that wasn’t “dirty.” He also spoke of professional sports and passionately argued about the quality of news in the blogosphere.
“I thought he was really entertaining and well-spoken,” said men’s soccer captain Andy Shorten ’11. “He answered questions well and they were all well-thought out answers. He’s a pretty opinionated guy and knows what he thinks.”
Women’s basketball head coach Chris Gobrecht added, “I was surprised at the amount of opinion that he gave. I think that was a real treat to hear his personal opinions like that.”
In discussing topics ranging from Major League Baseball to the NCAA’s position on student-athletes, Costas demonstrated his immense knowledge of the sports world.
Costas explained his stern position on the NCAA by saying that the organization should promote the value of the “student” half of student-athlete more by adopting a style of recruiting prospects already used by Ivy League schools.
“That made me realize when he was describing the way it should be in the NCAA that he was describing the Ivy League,” Gobrecht said. “That’s what makes us different — our athletes have to meet the same criteria as every other student.”
Costas also said he supports electing MLB players to the Hall of Fame who had noteworthy careers prior to using performance-enhancing drugs but not those whose career numbers were entirely fueled by drugs.
Costas has been most prominent over the years for his work as NBC’s host of both the Summer and Winter Olympics, which he said after the talk are a sporting event unlike any other because of the vast variety of people watching and the way Olympic athletes tend to emerge out of obscurity for just a few weeks every four years.
“Part of the job is to introduce the audience to the competitors,” he said.
The New York native, who did not complete his degree at Syracuse University, joined NBC Sports in the early 1980s and worked his way up the ranks before becoming the late-night Olympics anchor and then the lead anchor for the event in 1992.
In preparation for each Games, he spends time in the Olympic country beforehand before arriving in the host city two to three weeks in advance to get a sense of the location. But after covering eight Olympiads, his favorite being his first as a host in Barcelona, Costas only sporadically attends events.
He said that when the time zone allows, as it did in Sydney in 2000, he can watch morning events and film his show in the evenings. But in Vancouver, Costas had to sacrifice much-needed sleep to watch events.
“You lose some sense of what it’s like to be there,” he said about not watching events live. “I’m not there when Shaun White wins the half pipe or when Kim Yu-Na nailed her routine but I’m still in the studio and I watch all the monitors.”
Throughout the two hours Costas discussed his nuanced positions on the media, including how established news outlets should hold the Internet media to the same high standards they employs.
“I don’t see any need for an athlete to tweet at halftime,” he joked. “Can anything good come from this?”
After a youth spent listening to the storytellers on the radio such as Red Barber, Bob Uecker, Vin Scully and spending most of his career at NBC, Costas said his heroes were the sportscasters who were able to weave a vivid tale with words and were people who transcended generations.
“The great baseball announces especially the radio guys of bygone eras, they were the soundtrack of people’s summers,” Costas said. “As the teams changed the constant was the announcer.”
Costas has joined his heroes in the pantheon of American sports broadcasters.
“Just growing up watching sports, you know who Bob Costas is,” Shorten said.
The YUSES was founded by men’s hockey goaltender Billy Blase ’10 in 2008 and has hosted talks from prominent guests in the sports entertainment and business worlds.
“He’s such a big icon and whenever you can have an opportunity to meet a guy like that and hear his story, I think that’s really special,” Blase said.