CNN host Don Lemon asked if now is the right time for the return of sports in America in an interview with sportscaster Bob Costas on Thursday. Costas said that Colin Kaepernick was blackballed by the NFL and an “official acknowledgment” by the league would be “helpful.”
“Many professional athletes grappling with two crises, right. Two crises. The coronavirus and racism in America. It’s now — is now the time for the return of sports? That’s the question,” Lemon said prior to the interview.
“Let’s talk about this, the return of sports. Whatever that would look like would bring back some kind of normalcy, but there are two big issues that we have to grapple with right now. And of course, that’s coronavirus and the country’s original sin, which is racism. What place does sports have in America at this time at this intersection that we have between race and health?” Lemon asked.
LEMON: So, with two major crisis hitting sports leagues across this country as they try to find a way to begin or resume their seasons, more and more players are testing positive for COVID-19. And some athletes, particularly in the NBA are questioning whether now is even the right time to bring sports back as the nation confronts systemic racism.
So, let’s discuss now. Hall of fame broadcaster, Bob Costas. Bob, I’m so happy you’re here. And you finally taken the opportunity to come on. I know that you have been very busy. So, we appreciate you coming on.
So, let’s talk about this, the return of sports. Whatever that would look like would bring back some kind of normalcy, but there are two big issues that we have to grapple with right now. And of course, that’s coronavirus and the country’s original sin, which is racism.
What place does sports have in America at this time at this intersection that we have between race and health?
BOB COSTAS, HALL OF FAME BROADCASTER: Well, it would take the race part of it. The idea, and I heard some people express it. Former NBA player Stephen Jackson who was close to George Floyd, they looked almost like brothers almost like twins. We all know that story. Stephen Jackson has expressed his views. So too has NBA player Kyrie Irving that now is not the time to return to play because they should be concentrating on the social issues.
But even if the present movement is extraordinarily successful the idea that systemic racism is going to have an end point in the foreseeable future or that all of our problems will be behind us in the foreseeable future that doesn’t strike me as logical. And we can walk and chew gum at the same time.
If NBA players return to play or players in any sport they have an even greater platform and more eyes will be on them. So, I really don’t buy that argument.
However, there is certainly a good argument to say that even with the best intentions and the best medical expertise brought to bear if you need a 100-page protocol and that’s what baseball has, for instance. If there are so many needles to thread then it’s reasonable to ask even as we cross our fingers and say I hope they can get in the 60- game season and hope it goes off without a hitch.
There are so many whys and where for and so much doubt about how much jeopardy this might place a given player or his family in, that to me is the more pertinent question right now.
COSTAS: Is now the time to return and even if they do return can they do it successfully amid the coronavirus pandemic. I think the social issues, if anything, they’d be better highlighted if the players are back doing what they are known for doing.
LEMON: Let’s talk — and the players now seem to be empowered, more empowered than I’ve seen them at least in recent times, Bob. LeBron James is also speaking out about how the NFL handled Colin Kaepernick’s protest. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEBRON JAMES, NBA PLAYER, LOS ANGELES LAKERS: As far as the NFL, I’m not in those locker rooms, I’m not with those guys but I do understand that an apology, I have not heard a true official apology to Colin Kaepernick on what he was going through and what he was trying to tell the NFL and tell the world about why he was kneeling when he was doing that as a San Francisco 49er.
So, I just see that to be still be wrong. And now they are listening some. But I still think we have not heard that official apology to a man who basically sacrificed everything for the better of this world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: A very simple question, Bob, considering what’s going on in the country. We have been watching over the last couple of weeks. Does the league owe him an apology, Colin Kaepernick?
COSTAS: Well, there is an implicit apology and saying we were wrong about this. He has ruffled some feathers on a personal level, and I think that would make the apology tougher to come by. But whatever it may be worth, Don, I think I was the first and maybe still only network sports broadcaster in the summer of 2017 when the issue first arose to flatly say that Colin Kaepernick had been black balled. He was black balled. Is he as good as he was during the 49ers’ Super Bowl season? Likely not. He was in decline and who knows how good he is after three seasons away. You know, the shelf life of an athlete is short.
COSTAS: But at the very least he deserves a chance to prove that and certainly in 2017 he was good enough to be on the roster of many NFL teams. So, he was black balled. And I think some sort of official acknowledgment of that would be helpful.
LEMON: Thank you for answering that. Another hall of fame sports journalist as yourself is speaking out about this moment. This is HBO’s Bryant Gumbel on what he calls the black tax. Watch this, Bob.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRYANT GUMBEL, HOST, REAL SPORTS WITH BRYANT GUMBEL: It’s the added burden that comes with being black in America and it’s routinely paid no matter how much education you have or how much money you make or how much success you’ve earned. The black tax is about more than just the added stares, whispers and suspicions when you are out and about. It’s about the many instances of disrespect and instability your color seems to engender.
And being expected to somehow always restrain yourself less you not be what white Americans are never ask to be a credit to your race.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Listen, I can second that. From your perspective do you see things changing? And people are more vocal now and people seem to be more open about understanding —
LEMON: — what black people are facing in this country. What do you think of what Bryant said there?
COSTAS: Well, first of all, Bryant’s perspective is 100 percent valid because it’s his perspective. He has lived it. He is an experienced journalist and intelligent man. I watched it as it happened. I got goose bumps listening to it.
I think sometimes in this atmosphere, if you say anything that seems to be optimistic, some people wrongly interpret that as you are soft pedalling or trying to mitigate the historic horrors and the present problems. That is not the case.
But I am 68 years old. I was in college in the early 1970s. I had black friends, but most of my friends and associates were white. I can tell you, I went to a northeastern university, it was a different time, but I can tell you that the vast majority of my friends idolized — didn’t just approve of it — idolized Muhammad Ali and Tommie Smith and John Carlos and Lewis Alcindor that later become Kareem Abdul- Jabbar and Arthur Ashe.
I think that there are millions and millions of white Americans who cannot fully understand the experience because we can’t. I can’t fully understand your experience, Don. You cannot fully understand mine. But I think there are more people than the present events might lead us to believe who have had their hearts in the right place for a very long time.
And now it is playing out in the streets. We see — you can see confederate flags outside NASCAR venues. But the bigger story is all of the drivers, and only Bubba Wallace is an African-American among them, all the drivers marching with him. And NASCAR, knowing that a portion of their fan base is going to be alienated, taking a strong and unequivocal stand here and saying there will be no confederate flags here. We will not tolerate any of this.
I think that is an optimistic part of the story and citing that does not soft pedal the horrors and the injustices that also brought us to this point.
LEMON: We appreciate your perspective. I appreciate your perspective. Bob, you are always welcome on this program to discuss this or any issue. I appreciate you coming on. Thank you so much.