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Dan Rather Talks with Bob Costas on 'The Big Interview'
November 13, 2019  | By David Hinckley

Everyone should have the option of enjoying the kind of semi-retirement into which Dan Rather has settled.

Rather, who turned 88 two weeks ago, has spent the last couple of years hosting The Big Interview, an hour-long one-on-one with guests from the worlds of entertainment, sports, politics, culture, and elsewhere.

His Big Interview guest Wednesday, at 8 p.m. ET on the AXS network, is the well-regarded long-time sportscaster Bob Costas.

It's the sort of calm, low-key, unrushed interview that's unfortunately become a scarce commodity in the deluge of programming that otherwise fills the television air.

Costas, a household name from baseball games, Olympics coverage, and numerous other sporting events, talks about the arc of his career and the state of various sports he has covered.

He also talks at length about his departure from NBC Sports, which had, in some places, been reported as contentious, with the network uncomfortable over Costas' on-air commentary.

That's not the case, he says. He says he's enjoyed a great relationship with NBC for decades, confirmed by the fact that when he stepped down from his full-time gig, the network asked him to return for several upcoming major events and to do special programming. Costas calls it "the [Tom] Brokaw package," alluding to the former NBC Nightly News anchor who got a similar post-anchor deal.

Costas says he eventually decided to step away from almost everything, partly because of his concern that NBC "didn't have as much interest in news" as he did. That included, he says, "interviews like this one," where subjects can be explored in greater depth. Specifically, he says, NBC did not pursue his idea for an interview with National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell at the 2018 Super Bowl.

Obviously picking his word carefully, Costas calls the relationship between the NFL and television networks "odd," noting that football is such a major source of viewers and revenue that unlike in most other deals, "The buyer must continually flatter the seller."

While he repeatedly stresses his love of sports, and his belief in their value for national culture, Costas talks about two things that he doesn't see boding well for the future of the country's two major sports, football and baseball.

With football, the problem is concussions, whose devastating long-term impact has been increasingly documented in recent years.

Costas says Americans love football way too much to give it up, but he sees it as a diminishing presence in 25 years, just because fewer parents and athletes will want to take its risks.

Baseball, he suggests, has a more serious and immediate problem, which is that fewer athletes take up the sport, and fewer fans care about it in the way they once did.

He points to the length of games as a prime culprit, saying the sport has edged from a "leisurely" pace to "lethargic."

He "hopes," he says, that baseball will remain a primary American sport 50 years from now.

Equally interesting are Costas's stories about growing up and what made him a sports fan. No spoilers here, but he finds light in a dark tale.

Rather, as is his custom, asks the questions and lets his guest answer. He doesn't engage in as much back-and-forth as he did a few years ago, but that's not a big problem. As Rather has explained, these are legacy interviews, giving the subject a chance to tell his or her own story.

Costas, like many before, has a story worth hearing.

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