NBC just had two of the biggest events in sports less than a week apart: the Super Bowl and the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Costas, 65, was the king of both when NBC had the rights — until this year.
He hosted six NBC Super Bowls and served as NBC’s primetime host for a record 11 Olympics.
A year ago, the 26-time Emmy winner announced he wouldn’t be doing the Olympics this year. People magazine reports he said in a statement,
“It’s been a wonderful run, but I just felt now was the right time to step away and I’m grateful that NBC left that decision to me.”
It’s a huge job, day after day, with so many events and athletes to know all about. At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, he went on the air after catching an eye infection.
Now, NBC took Mike Tirico from ABC and ESPN to do the chore, which may have doubled because the network brilliantly decided to carry everything live on the west coast (starting at 5pm) and go until 2am in the east, when west coast prime time ends at 11. Of course, the South Korea time zone helped get everything live, but it’s still six long hours on the air.
It’s kind of fitting, in a way. Costas had hosted every Olympic Games since 1992. Tirico was the first student to receive the Bob Costas Scholarship at Costas’ alma mater, Syracuse University, back in 1987.
Costas is at the point in his career and life that he can say what he wants, and I love that. I hope I come across just as honestly these days, as well. It’s almost a waste to keep your mouth shut, if you know what you’re talking about.
As for the Super Bowl, it’s one game and just over three hours of time that most of America and much of the world would be watching. And he’d only have to be an expert on two teams. Sounds much, much easier — something he can handle with his eyes closed.
(L-R) lining up to push and shove; Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Nick Foles (#8) had just thrown a pass when he was with the University of Arizona; trying to tackle the runner
But in November, he said, “This game (football) destroys people’s brains,” referring to players’ concussions and other head injuries.
He’s absolutely right! Don’t think so? Look at all the damage done. Look at the behavior of some former players who got hit too hard too many times. Keep reading for the names of some players who died too young because of the damage, and a description of how the damage happens.
Parents, is it worth a four-year scholarship to college? Do the students getting the scholarships actually study for a job in the real world, or is football an extra responsibility that’s much more important than regular studies and credits?
Don’t get me wrong. I love watching football, especially when I know the team and the players. But I’m no die-hard who would watch some college football game between two west coast teams I know nothing about.
I like watching the players give it all to catch a pass, the defense trying to block and then tackle the runner if necessary. And the runner doing whatever it takes to get an extra few feet or make it out of bounds while keeping control of the ball. But first, the defensive line trying to blitz the quarterback, with his offensive counterparts protecting him.
A Popular Science article two years ago stated a football game has
“an estimated 130-plus plays, hundreds of hits, tackles, spears, and lay outs. For a young and healthy athlete, that can lead to serious brain trauma.”
“According to the NFL, there were 271 documented game-related concussions this past season — the most recorded by the league since 2011. Roughly one-third of those were caused by helmet-to-helmet contact.”
The magazine describes “one of the season’s dirtiest” games. It happened in January 2016.
“How dirty? With 22 seconds left in the game, the Steelers’ star wide receiver, Antonio Brown, was midair, ready to catch a ball that he hoped would put the Steelers within range of a game-winning field goal. Instead, Bengals’ linebacker Vontaze Burfict launched himself at Brown as he came down, slamming his helmet (which in the NFL can weigh four to six pounds) into the side of Brown’s head, whipping it sideways on his brain stem. The hit, at an estimated 707 miles per hour, carried about 1600 pounds of tackling force. It flattened Brown on his back, seemingly knocking him unconscious. Jim Nantz, the NFL’s normally unflappable play-by-play guy, was apoplectic, calling the assault ‘disgraceful.’
“The Steelers, who ended up winning the game 18 – 16, later said Brown had suffered ‘concussion like symptoms.’
“In the NFL, that’s code for ‘has a concussion.’”
A co-director at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center told the magazine “what mostly likely went on inside Brown’s head that day.”
“As Burfict slammed into the left side of Brown’s head, he twisted it up and to the right. The slo-mo is painful just to watch. According to (Dr. Robert) Cantu, a hit like that would lead to a textbook rotational concussion, among the worst a player can suffer. There are several things happening inside Brown’s skull, the moment of impact. Brown’s brain begins to twist and spin. It does this in the opposite direction of the hit and inside his skull’s cerebrospinal fluid, a clear fluid that cushions the brain. In that same moment, his brain’s nerve fibers stretch and rotate.”
Also, according to the magazine,
“A large percentage of NFL concussions are the results of T-bone hits (at the ear hole) or right between the eyes. These hits rattle the brain’s center of gravity. What they do is make the brain to rock dangerously backwards and forward, repeatedly hitting the skull. In young athletes (think teenagers), the brain is flush with the bone. So this effect is not as pronounced as in older players, who have a one-eighth to a quarter-inch space, more room for the brain to ricochet off the skull, and thus to cause more harm.
“Blows to the side of the head, like the that laid out Brown, are far more dangerous. The spinning a brain undergoes during a rotational concussion can cause significant structural issues.
“As Brown’s body recoils, his brain continues swirling back and forth before finally oscillating to a stop. That’s where things fade to black, both in Brown’s consciousness and in our scientific understanding.”
Stanford bio-engineer David Camarillo recently told PBS KQED’s Quest blog, “One of the serious issues is the wobbling of the brain.”
“The exertion caused by a rotational hit puts a much greater degree of stretch and strain on the nerve tissue than a linear hit,” Dr. Cantu explained. “It isn’t just going in one direction. It is going side to side, front and back.”
The magazine describes the injury.
“As soon as Brown’s head is hit, his brain violently accelerates. Neurotransmitters — chemicals that allow neurons to communicate with each other — are released, but since the trauma is so great, these neurotransmitters are chaotic and rendered effectively useless. At the same time, the new membranes surrounding the brain’s neuronal cells stretch so thin that ions like potassium and sodium flow out of the neurons and into the fluid-packed extracellular space. These ions are quickly replaced by calcium, which flows into the cell and basically paralyzes the neuron.”
“The cell is unable to transmit nerve impulses. So what you have is a cell that is alive, but is greatly impaired and nonfunctioning. Cantu calls it ‘an energy crisis in the brain.’ And it can last not just minutes, but for months. That means whatever responsibility that cell controls, whether it be memory, speech or rage control, it can’t do its job. ‘So if the cell affects vision, you won’t see properly,’ says Cantu.”
But that’s not all.
“Microseconds after the ion chemical reaction, Brown’s nerve cells and fibers start to stretch. Once the blood vessels in those parts break, microscopic hemorrhages occur. Doctors using specialty MRI scans have seen these ruptures in injured NFL players as tiny holes where vessels have bled out. If the vessels bleed into the brain’s tissue, the fluid could kill neurons, which can already be in bad shape from a hit as severe as Brown’s.
“Scientists do not know how to measure the number of cells injured in a concussion. They just don’t know. But for athletes who suffer from CTE, a degenerative condition that can only be diagnosed through autopsy (90 out 94 former NFL players who authorized the examination over the past eight years have had it), the cell death is crippling. It leads to massive atrophy in the medial surface of the brain’s temporal lobe. That’s the region and area of the brain that is associated, in part, with memory and language. If the cells don’t have enough rehab time (say, a player takes the field too soon), they ‘tip over,’ says Cantu, and die, causing brown stains to develop throughout that region (a phenomenon noted by medical examiners during autopsies on NFL players).”
Players like Dave Duerson and Terry Long wasted away due to the ravages of CTE and then ultimately committed suicide.
No football fan could forget Junior Seau. A team of scientists who analyzed the brain tissue of renowned NFL linebacker after his 2012 suicide concluded he suffered a debilitating brain disease likely caused by two decades worth of hits to the head, researchers and his family told ABC News.
That January 2013 article reported,
“More than 30 NFL players have in recent years been diagnosed with CTE, a condition once known as ‘punch drunk’ because it affected boxers who had taken multiple blows to the head. Last year, some 4,000 retired players filed lawsuits against the league over its alleged failure to protect players from brain injuries.
“The NFL has said it did not intentionally hide the dangers of concussions from players and is doing everything it can now to protect them.”
Ken Stabler suffered from CTE, died of colon cancer in 2015 and donated his roughly three-pound brain to Cantu’s CTE Center for analysis. Shortly before his death, he established the XOXO Stabler Foundation to take
“up a cause that directly affected the foundation’s chairman: sports-related brain trauma.
“The foundation’s new initiative XOXO Game Plan for Change is focused on changing the course and culture of contact sports to increase sports safety and reduce brain trauma in athletes. To facilitate change, the XOXO Stabler Foundation funds research on related brain diseases, methods of treatment and prevention, and educational outreach.”
Antwaan Randle El, 36, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he suffered severe memory loss and couldn’t even walk down the stairs.
Calvin Johnson announced he’d retire at age 30 likely because of fears relating to his post-retirement health.
“The very severity of the disease, at least that we’re seeing in American football players, seems to correlate with the duration of play. The longer they play, the more severe we see it,” Dr. Ann McKee told The New York Times.
And most recently, in April 2017, Aaron Hernandez killed himself while serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a 2013 murder. Despite that, he was remembered in a video tribute before this month’s Super Bowl, when the league ran salutes to those the NFL lost in the past year.
Five months after the 27-year-old’s death, The New York Times reported,
“A posthumous examination of his brain showed he had such a severe form of the degenerative brain disease C.T.E. that the damage was akin to that of players well into their 60s.”
The gray lady’s ominous lead was,
“The brain scan came as a surprise even to researchers who for years have been studying the relationship between brain disease and deaths of professional football players.”
The article claimed CTE has been found in more than 100 former NFL players including Andre Waters, Ray Easterling and sports announcer Frank Gifford.
What if it was touch football or flag football, instead of tackle?
We’re talking about a whole different game! There would be a whole lot less excitement, fewer fans, less money in TV rights, and a lot less money in team and player paraphernalia.
Heck, if I could see and run better, I could even play! That just shows how different the game would be.
But going back to those injuries: Marc Buoniconti’s spinal cord injury causing him to be a paraplegic for more than 30 years. Who’s paying those medical bills? We’re talking about the rest of these people’s lives! As it stands, what percentage of former players go bankrupt due to bad advice or simply spending too much (which is much, much more than earlier players made)?
Last month, Costas told Sports Business Daily the decision to sit out the Super Bowl was mutual. He explained,
“Not only do I not have a problem with it, I am actually happy about it. I have long had ambivalent feelings about football, so at this point, it’s better to leave the hosting to those who are more enthusiastic about it.”
Again, Costas not part of the Olympics nor the Super Bowl seemed like a surprise. And again, it’s great to be able to do what you want and not do what you don’t want.
But Costas says we should not be surprised. His Olympics decision was made way back. And as for the Super Bowl,
“I have been making the same points for several years, often on NBC. In halftime commentaries, interviews with (NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell and other prominent NFL figures, appearances on CNN and elsewhere, I have addressed the issue of football and its undeniable connection to brain trauma many times.
“Because the evidence is overwhelming and the effects are often devastating. It’s the elephant in the stadium at every game whether others choose to acknowledge it or not. And it’s not going away. So the idea that I am only now finding my voice on this, or that NBC was taken aback by what I said at Maryland is just wrong. It’s all simple and straightforward.”
I love people who speak freely!
Yes, there are benefits to being a popular, rich athlete. A lot of good needs to be done in the world. It costs money. People need food and clean water. Children here need examples, especially the ones without fathers.
But would you go out on the field, even with a ton of protection, and do something that has destroyed so many people’s lives?
ESPN reported last April, owners were not happy with the weeks-long “intermissions” every four years and wanted “conciliatory offers from the International Olympic Committee and/or the NHL Players’ Association.”
“Any sort of inconvenience the Olympics may cause to next season’s schedule is a small price to pay compared to the opportunity to showcase our game and our greatest players on this enormous international stage.”
A deal didn’t happen, the players can’t compete and be Olympians this year, so Costas could call hockey. I don’t think he ever has, but he’s probably too smart to compete against the Olympics!
P.P.S. I couldn’t resist! Please forgive me.
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