Blog by: George Thomas and Ron Ledgard
There’s little doubt that Bob Costas remains one of the best and most relevant sports journalists still working today.
Yes to those who may question that title, despite his ability to provide play-by-play for a number of sports, he is a journalist and proves it with his latest NBCSN Costas Tonight: No Day For Games: The Cowboys and JFK, which airs at 11 p.m. Wednesday.
With the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Pres. John F. Kennedy arriving this week, news outlets are in overdrive to present specials related to one of three of America’s most tragic events.
Why bother with this one? Because it’s the only one that I’m aware that provides a snapshot of how the sports world reacted at the time. Other sports took the weekend of JFK’s funeral off out of respect. The NFL? Let’s just say that Pete Rozelle, the late great commissioner who ushered the league into the TV age, called playing that weekend the biggest regret of a great career.
The other reason to watch? The Cowboys traveled to Cleveland to play the Browns at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium that weekend.
While No Day For Games wisely focuses on the Cowboys, Costas gives significant voice to what the Browns felt and how they reacted to the tragedy.
“When your president has been shot in cold blood,” said Kay Collier McLaughlin, daughter of then coach Blanton Collier, “you know the world’s gone a bit crazy.”
Indeed the world had – at least for a very brief time.
Anguish gave way to grief. Grief gave way to anger. And anger gave way to stupidity.
The Cowboys, who didn’t want to play the game anyway, were subjected to abuse prior to the game in the form of death threats and during the game words such as “killer,” “murderer” and “Kennedy killer” came from the crowd.
Browns lineman John Wooten probably spoke for more than a few teammates when he said: “The City of Dallas killed our president. That was the feeling – we wanted to get after Dallas.”
It gives voice to an understandable feeling - dead wrong - but understandable given that moment in history.
Owner Art Modell took the extraordinary measure of advising public address announcer John Holliday to not use “Dallas” in any form.
Of course Kennedy is the focus, however, this edition of Costas Tonight will make you think and question the polarization that exists in this country.
There is little doubt that some of those Costas interviewed for this piece are Republican, while Kennedy was a Democrat, but the impression of America during this time was that of a nation pulled together because of tragedy – no matter the political affiliation.
It happened again on Sept. 11, 2001 with the bombings of buildings in New York City and Washington D.C. Even that event feels as distant as the 50 years that separates us from JFK’s assassination – distant enough that any sane person has to wonder whether the country will ever feel that again in the face of tragedy.