Bob Costas: Interviews, Not Commentary, on Russia Law
Bob Costas would love to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin about the country’s so-called "gay propaganda" law.
He’s less interested in offering up a commentary on the issue.
NBC will broadcast the Sochi Olympics starting Feb. 6, and so far one of the biggest stories surrounding these Winter Games is that recently enacted law.
The network announced Wednesday that Costas would add late-night hosting duties to his prime-time responsibilities. He considers that slot perfect for in-depth interviews and discussions on any controversies that may arise, and his well-established fondness for addressing broader issues would seem to predict a plunge into Russian legal policy.
Costas and NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus said in interviews with The Associated Press this week that the network would report on the subject in its Olympic coverage. That likely won’t include Costas reciting an opinion piece.
"You can say, ’Russia has these laws, tsk, tsk,’" he said. "But 90 percent of Americans, I’m guessing - regardless of their political affiliation when it comes to other issues - disagree with the law anyway. So the best service is not to just wag a finger. The best service is to ask the right questions if you can get responsible people to sit down to be interviewed."
During the broadcast of the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Games, Costas suggested that the International Olympic Committee should have used the stage to honor the Israeli athletes killed in Munich 40 years earlier.
He said this week that a commentary was the only option then because of the immediacy of the scene of the country’s representatives marching in, when the IOC could have held a moment of silence.
"Sometimes commentaries are useful - at least I hope so; otherwise, I’m in big trouble," Costas said. "But other times what you’d prefer is to be a reporter and an interviewer rather than a commentator."
The desired subjects of those interviews (which would also cover many other topics) in Sochi? IOC President Thomas Bach and Russian officials. The ultimate get: Putin.
NBC has set precedent for those sorts of segments, including Costas’ sit-down with President George W. Bush during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Costas contends that viewers are interested in the broader issues - and the intrigue of the Sochi Games may even be heightened because of it.
"At this point, more than two months out, probably more Americans are aware of those issues than they are of any Olympic athletes other than Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White, Shani Davis," he said.
Costas knows many sports fans perceive that he regularly offers commentaries on off-the-field issues during his host duties for "Sunday Night Football."