Goodman: CBS should address Augusta’s dark history


Meredith Goodman, Columnist

I am  not a huge fan of golf. I never understood why there was an entire channel dedicated to it, and I was always terrible at putt-putt (I do, however, enjoy the occasional Arnold Palmer drink).

I never paid attention to golf until last summer, when the first women were finally admitted into the elite Augusta National Golf Club, where the Masters are held. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and businesswoman and financier Darla Moore were invited to become members at the famed golf course on Aug. 20, 2012.  To clarify, women could previously play at Augusta if invited by a male member, but they had not been allowed to become members themselves.

You can bet that after this announcement I, along with many women, viewed golf in a different light and questioned some of the history of Augusta. So did Bob Costas, a renowned NBC sports commentator who criticized CBS, the network that has televised the Masters for more than 50 years, for ignoring “Augusta’s history of racism and sexism.”

During an interview on ESPN’s “Dan Patrick Show,” Costas denounced CBS commentators for never “alluding to … never acknowledging” Augusta’s history, “even when people were protesting just outside the grounds.” Costas is known for sometimes stating controversial opinions on air. He spoke out for gun control during the halftime of a game after one player for the Kansas City Chiefs, Jovan Belcher, murdered his wife and committed suicide.

But personally, I think that Costas’ statement, which I would not classify as a rant or “ripping” on CBS, should be taken into consideration by major TV networks. Controversial histories of sports can be discussed on air, with careful timing and consideration, and lead to productive discussions.

The 2012 London Olympics marked the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre, an event in which the Palestinian terrorist group Black September took hostage and eventually killed 11 Israeli Olympians. Throughout the summer of 2012, there was a fair share of controversy as to whether or not the International Olympic Committee would recognize the massacre during its opening ceremonies.

As I sat down to watch the hours-long opening ceremony, I wondered whether NBC commentators, who held exclusive broadcasting rights to the Olympics, would mention the massacre. I honestly wasn’t expecting even a passing mention because of the reluctance of honor for the Israeli athletes during the ceremony on the part of the IOC, who had not even allotted a moment of silence for a proper memorial.

Yet Costas, NBC’s lead sports anchor for the London Olympics, promised to honor the Munich victims with a moment of silence and an on-air mention. And he fulfilled his promise by calling out the IOC and its President Jacques Rogge and pausing for 12 seconds (an eternity in television) for a moment of silence.

All in all, Costas proceeded quite tastefully with his planned remarks. What could have been a disastrous Kanye West style broadcast interruption was done quite gracefully. It was a “planned act of defiance” that NBC knew about but still went along with, and everything went according to plan.

Yet, is there really such thing as a “planned act of defiance”? Costas’ plan went public to the entire Internet to the point where NBC officials must have known. They had the chance to replace Costas or quickly cut to a commercial break when Israel entered the ceremony. By keeping Costas on the air, NBC implicitly allowed their lead anchor to speak out about sports controversies over the air.

Unless Costas switches networks or NBC gains the television rights for the Masters, he will not provide commentary during the event. But I encourage all commentators to follow Costas’ example and inform us about historical controversies in sporting events. We all have something to learn from these histories, and we can be more informed viewers if commentators take a chance and speak out.

Meredith Goodman is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this letter, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].