Nine months ago Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, made his thoughts about sports blogs loudly and profanely known on a live episode of HBO’s Costas Now. At the receiving end of this tirade: Will Leitch, now a contributing editor at New York. (Cleveland Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards and Bob Costas looked on.) Now that Costas has shelved the program and moved on to the MLB Network, Leitch takes a look back at the incident in this excerpt from the paperback version of his book God Save the Fan, out now.
Bob Costas was beginning to sweat. The famously smooth broadcaster sat in a crowded Starbucks on Columbus Circle, in the shadow of the Time Warner Center in Manhattan, and frustration was starting to set in. He had talked to the boyish Midwesterner for about 45 minutes, and despite his best efforts, the boy — chugging a bottled water, sweating as well — just didn’t seem to get it.
“It’s just that all these comments are so third-rate,” Costas said, leaning in, driving the point home: “I mean, come on. Can’t these people come up with anything more clever than ‘Costas is a dwarf’?”
This was not a new point for Costas. A month before, he was speaking on a sports-media panel when the subject of bloggers came up. He had minced few words in making mincemeat of most of my professional colleagues.
“It’s one thing if somebody sets up a blog from their mother’s basement in Albuquerque and they are who they are, and they’re a pathetic get-a-life loser, but now that pathetic get-a-life loser can piggyback onto someone who actually has some level of professional accountability and they can be commenter No. 17 on Dan Le Batard’s column or Bernie Miklasz’s column in St. Louis,” Costas had said. “That, in most cases, grants a forum to somebody who has no particular insight or responsibility. Most of it is a combination of ignorance or invective. It’s just a high-tech place for idiots to do what they used to do on bar stools or in school yards, if they were school-yard bullies, or on men’s-room walls in gas stations. That doesn’t mean that anyone with half a brain should respect it.”
Writing on Deadspin, I expressed disappointment; I liked Costas, as did many of my readers. I hoped he was misquoted. He seemed too smart for such blatant, proud ignorance. (Fittingly, the first comment on Costas’s post said, “Costas couldn’t find perspective if someone dropped him into Rosie O’Donnell’s pussy,” which totally helped make my case. Thanks, dude.) The outcry over Costas’s rant was immediate, and Costas, unaccustomed to bad publicity, found my phone number and called. We had not spoken before. He wasn’t contrite, but he was eager to “clarify.” “I was absolutely not saying that most or all bloggers were losers,” he told me. “It just seems so often that commenters use insults in the place of arguments. Is there a lot out there that’s also well written? Of course. But forgive me for not placing the exact same value on a comment on a political blog that I would to something said by Ted Koppel.”
But we were cool; I dutifully recorded his words, like a reporter, and the pretend tempest was contained once I “clarified” on the site. Plus, you know, now I had Bob Costas’s number in my phone, right between those of my cousin (who’s always calling to borrow money) and a moderately hot girl I met at a bar a few years ago (who gave me a fake number).
A week later, when one of Costas’s producers asked if I’d be interested in appearing on Costas NOW, the HBO program, to talk about sports media with Bob and other panelists, I agreed. I had a book to sell, HBO often has smart people on, and Costas and I, you know, we’re bros now — fist pound, yo. When the hardcover version of God Save the Fan came out, I’d gone on a monthlong media tour, so I had my talking points nailed, stuffed, and mounted. Then Costas called, saying that he’d met everyone who would be on the panel, other than me, so formal introductions were probably in order.
Which is how I ended up in the Starbucks, watching Costas sweat.
I walked in and met Costas and his wife, who looks like a less harsh, friendlier Cindy McCain. I don’t drink coffee, so she bought me a water and, after about twenty minutes of small talk, drifted away to another table. I sized up Costas. He looked exactly like he did on television. It was almost creepy. It wasn’t makeup that made him look perpetually 35; he actually walks around like that, all the time. Sure, the hair was dyed, but he’s a TV guy — you kind of have to do that until you’re as old as Bob Barker and don’t have to care anymore. I was excited to be talking to him. Look, Mom, it’s Bob Costas!
And then, for about an hour, I became Costas’s personification of the internet. I knew that his understanding of the web was rudimentary, but I had no idea just how clueless he really was. It was as if he had never looked at a computer until the “get-a-life losers” kerfuffle. But rather than respond with curiosity, Costas had, apparently, decided that everything on the internet was designed specifically to make him look like a jerk. And because he apparently had never met anyone who worked online before, I became the outlet for his frustrations.