Horse racing, Costas says, showing `signs' of charge


May 15, 2004

If it has happened on the American or global sports stage, Bob Costas has covered it, either as host of NBC's prime-time Olympic coverage since 1992, or as anchor or lead play-by-play announcer on the World Series, the Super Bowl and the NBA Finals. Costas, who won his 11th Emmy Award last month as Outstanding Studio Host, will co-host with Tom Hammond NBC's coverage of the Preakness. Costas talked with The Sun's Milton Kent yesterday.

Your impressions of the state of horse racing today?

There was a time, way back before I remember firsthand when the top sports in America were baseball, boxing, college football and horse racing. Obviously, those days are long past, but I think there has been a resurgence in the last few years, with first the book Seabiscuit, then the movie Seabiscuit, and also the fact that the last couple of years have seen legitimate runs at the Triple Crown and Funny Cide was an extremely popular horse. Smarty Jones is shaping up as a people's choice-type of horse, and the Kentucky Derby got its highest ratings in the last decade two weeks ago. So I think the signs are definitely on an upswing.

Does the sport need a Triple Crown winner?

It doesn't need one, but it certainly would help.

Who would, in your mind, make a good baseball commissioner?

There was a time when, and I don't know what his present involvement is and how immersed in it he is, when I thought Ron Shapiro from Baltimore would be good because of his reasonable understanding of both positions, of both the players' and owners' positions. He's not an ideologue. ...

I thought for a long time from within the commissioner's office, Sandy Alderson, the former A's GM, might be a good choice. He's a very bright man with a baseball background, and he doesn't carry baggage in the public's mind that some other people might. But Sandy's been involved in some internal controversy about the umpires and Questec and whatnot. I don't know if that gets in the way of that possibility or not. ... And then I'm sure there are people from outside of baseball, including politicians who might have an interest in it if they thought they could be effective.

Do you expect to do baseball broadcasting again?

I think it's likely that I will. Is it certain? No, but I think it's likely. It's possible that NBC would reacquire some portion of baseball in the future. It's possible that I could do some kind of package somewhere else or a local package.

What concerns do you have about the Athens Olympics?

Anyone who has been paying attention would have to have some concerns about the security, some concern about whether the Olympics themselves will be pulled off smoothly. There are some encouraging signs in recent weeks that they are finally pulling it together. Those things are stories. They aren't just concerns; they are stories that we have to cover as they unfold. Another interesting thing will be what kind of reception American athletes get in Greece, given the hostility toward the United States in much of the world. Another story is performance-enhancing drugs and the extent to which they impact these games. Are we going to get positive tests? Are we going to get people dropping out of the Olympics just prior to, either because they fear the testing or because they've been busted prior to? I think all those things are stories, but I think as long as nothing catastrophic happens.

Do the Olympics have the same interest the further we get away from Cold War story lines?

A lot of things have impacted the Olympics, not just the end of the Cold War and the Us vs. Them aspect that that brought to it. Although the Olympics is still one of the very few television properties that cuts through all the clutter and brings a large audience together, even the biggest events, whether it's Friends or the Olympics, even that is affected to some extent by the availability of all these other choices, the zillion-station cable universe and people having VCRs and knowing they can see some version of highlights on the Internet or on SportsCenter, or whatever. It seems nothing is quite as central to American life as it used to be, with the possible exception of the Super Bowl because it's one game, one night. It's been impacted by that, it's been impacted by the end of the Cold War. The Salt Lake City Olympics, coming (a) so soon after 9/11, (b) on American soil and (c) coming at a time of year when television viewing is high, you got an uptick there. ... But I suspect that some people are going to watch this partly out of interest in how the athletic competition goes, but also out of curiosity since this is a world focal point, and given all of the international tension that is out there, people will watch wondering what will happen.

To what extent do performance-enhancing drugs place a shadow over baseball and all sports?

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