WASHINGTON (5/26/19) — Bob Costas doesn’t pay much attention to the “stick to sports” crowd — there are moments, he says, when sports and more serious cultural, racial and political issues intersect.
The longtime broadcaster has always felt it’s his responsibility to talk about it.
“Not only is sports a good place to talk about those things, as long as you pick your spots carefully, it’s often the best place to talk about those things,” Costas said. “Our job is not confined to ball one, strike two. There’s an opportunity to talk about these things.”
Costas, 67, received the Sam Lacy-Wendell Smith Award from the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism’s Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism during a luncheon at Nationals Park Sunday, recognizing a Hall of Fame career in which Costas has become known for his in-depth coverage of sports and its impact on culture.
The Povich Center, named for the late Washington Post sports editor and columnist, has made the award for the past five years in honor of a journalist who has spent their career attempting to encourage racial and gender equality in sports. Claire Smith, James Brown, William Rhoden and Michael Wilbon previously won the award.
Povich Center Director George Solomon called Costas “a worthy successor to the previous winners.”
“I’m humbled to be included with people who have done much more work in this area than I have,” Costas said. “But, I’ve tried.”
Costas, a commentator for MLB Network, left NBC in January. He spent nearly 40 years covering almost every major professional sport for the network and hosting each Olympic Games from 1992 to 2016.
His style was fostered early. Costas remembers attending New York Yankees games as a kid, when it struck him that, while he cheered white and black players alike, there were no black managers, coaches or announcers.
His father couldn’t tell him why. A teacher, recognizing Costas’ curiosity, told him what to read to better understand the historical and social context of what he saw on the baseball diamond.
When he became a broadcaster, he decided to help tell those stories.
“When I could, I put Don Newcombe on to talk about what it was like in the Negro Leagues. I put Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the air,” Costas said. “I didn’t feel like I was crusading. I just thought this was interesting stuff. It was part of the story of America, not just the story of sports.”
Such efforts are what Solomon meant when he called Costas a worthy recipient of the Lacy-Smith Award.
Sam Lacy and Wendell Smith, contemporaries of Shirley Povich, spent much of their newspaper careers advocating fairness, equality and justice in sports, including reporting, writing columns and lobbying for the integration of Major League Baseball, which occurred in 1947 when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Lacy worked worked more than 80 years, primarily as sports editor of the Baltimore Afro-American. He died in 2003, at the age of 99. Smith covered the Negro Leagues for a number of newspapers, including the Pittsburgh Courier and Chicago Defender and Chicago Herald-American. He died in 1972 at the age of 58.
“It is a legacy that is marked with social change,” said Damion Thomas, curator of sports at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “These two men are the embodiments of journalism at its best.”