December 3, 2012

Jovan Belcher (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Bob Costas takes a few moments out of a halftime broadcast of “Sunday Night Football” to talk politics and society, and right away a good portion of America piles on the umbrage. At 5:01 p.m., for instance, the Costas comments in favor of gun control following the Jovan Belcher incident were serving as the top story on Fox News’s “The Five.” Everybody’s talking about it. 

Except for NBC Sports’s competitors. 

After a fair amount of badgering from the Erik Wemple Blog, prolific NFL broadcaster ESPN issued this canned statement: 

“We have guidelines for commentary across our outlets. We review each instance and take into account what may be relevant for each specific outlet or show.”

Fox Sports, another enormous NFL carrier, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

CBS Sports was more open. Its chairman, Sean McManus, told the Erik Wemple Blog in a phone interview that having broadcast talent editorialize on issues is “a situation we don’t deal with all that often and when we do, we encourage hosts and analysts to express their opinions….We will not discourage them from speaking their minds,” says McManus. That said, CBS Sports and its people aren’t famous for veering into politics, as Costas so boldly did last night. There’s a reason why it simply doesn’t go there. “Our job is to cover sports and you know, we’re not covering political races.”

McManus mentioned that CBS Sports star James Brown has on occasion spoken out on some controversial issues. For instance:

Brown in 2008 criticized Plaxico Burress for being a poor role model; in 2007, he inveighed against the stereotyping of Sean Taylor following his shooting death.

Serious issues, to be sure — though hardly as contentious and divisive as gun control, a conflict that sits astride the Constitution and a long-running culture war.
McManus’s mantra that a sports network covers sports is a strong one. And that’s precisely what Costas was doing in attempting to address the root cause of a tragedy that had befallen the sports world. If NBC Sports wants to air an anti-gun control editorial during next week’s halftime, so much the better. Who, after all, needs the usual blah-blah about whether the suspect Green Bay Packers offensive line is holding up against the Detroit Lions?

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.