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Bob Costas Pinkeye Straight Out Of Greek Tragedy About Smugness

In Greek myth, lack of insight leads to literal loss of sight. Bob Costas should take heed.


Everyone’s least favorite political pundit (and sometimes sportscaster) Bob Costas took the night off from Olympics coverage because of a growing problem with his eyes.

Americans were first troubled by the sight of the pink, oozing eye on Thursday of last week. At the time, Costas told viewers the problem should “resolve itself” by the weekend. Instead, the infection worsened and by Monday it had spread to the other eye.

We don’t know for sure what’s plaguing Costas, but it appears to be pinkeye. If so, it’s extremely painful and uncomfortable. Here’s to his speedy return to health.

But doesn’t it kind of seem like it’s straight out of a Greek tragedy on the dangers of hubris? Or at least on the dangers of smugness? That’s what I argued here:

Costas used to be one of the best sportscasters in the world. Arguably one of the most skilled baseball color men, he exuded passion for the game and filled his broadcasts with perfect trivia from his vast storehouse of baseball knowledge. I have no idea what Present Day Bob Costas did with Awesome Bob Costas, but the old guy is definitely no more.

Smugness has always been an issue for the man, but lately it’s just gotten completely out of control. While other newscasters might have a warm, even friendly, presence, Costas’ vibe is more “you’re lucky to be listening to me.” A stationery strutter, he spews information at the viewer in a manner that mostly calls attention to himself. Every interview by Costas is ultimately about Costas, each story ultimately about him. Someone should do a word count of questions and answers.

Talk of his smugness heated up during the last Olympics. Here’s a sample discussion regarding a listener email from “Mike” received by sports radio hosts “Kevin & Bean”:

Bean: Yes, having said all that, I kind of a little bit, sort of, without being able to put my finger on it, know what Mike is talking about. There is something about him that does rub me the wrong way, and having said all the admiration in the world that I have for him, I still don’t know what that is that he does that makes me think he isn’t a nice man. Kevin: It’s some kind of smug, some kind of “I’m better than everybody,” or “I’m smarter than the sport.” I can’t put my finger on it either but he just rubs me the wrong way. And you can look at him and go, “he has an understanding of and a recall of sports like I have never seen in my life, really really on it, super talented never forgets facts, just amazing…” It’s nothing that he says that you can point to and go this is him being a [redacted], it’s just a general overall know-it-all smugness, I think.

That same year some folks wrote a story headlined “How to Ruin Any Sporting Event: Add a Little Bob Costas, Mr. Bandwagon’s Two-Week Olympic Celebration of His Own Greatness.”

Will Leitch, in his write-up of his interactions with Costas (including that amazing panel discussion with Buzz Bissinger on how vile internet discussion of sports has gotten), noted:

Later, I told my mom this story, which was a mistake; during Costas’s notable (and extremely well-done) interview with President Bush a few months later during the Beijing Olympics, she said she shut off the television because she “couldn’t stand looking at that ass.” This made her the first person in recent history to see George Bush on television and change the channel because of another human being on screen.

In recent years, he’s annoyed viewers with his smug pontifications during the half-time of NFL games. He went off here, for instance, on how football players celebrating football things showed how they had no class.

He joined the weird, and wildly uninformed, bandwagon campaign against the Washington Redskins. (And if you’re similarly uninformed, I commend for your reading “The Real History of the Word Redskin. It’s Not What You Think.” It’s probably something closer to the opposite of what you think.)

The smug is still strong with Costas. As Kennedy noted:

How about this, every time Bob Costas is smug and arrogant, DRINK! Oh wait, you’d die of alcohol poisoning, never mind.

Perhaps the best example of how the great Costas has become the not-so-great Costas was when he used the death of an NFL player to call for handgun control. It wasn’t just that he came out against the Second Amendment on the same day an NFL player shot his girlfriend and killed himself. It was that he did it in such an unbelievably ideological and uninformed manner.

During his half-time rant, he said:

"Those who need tragedies to continually recalibrate their sense of proportion about sports would seem to have little hope of truly achieving perspective."

As a commenter at Ricochet put it:

But exploiting sports' human interest stories is Costas' own bread an butter. What is he doing in this segment, but what he always does these days? He's enveighing down as a moral force, using sporting events to shape opinion and to promote his views. Those views would be his refined, gauged, politically correct views calculated to evoke the highest targeted lauds.

Which brings us back to Greek tragedy. A drug-addled Sigmund Freud might have thought the central point of the Oedipus story was something about sexy-time with your mom. Yes, Oedipus is about a man who becomes king of Thebes who was destined from birth to kill his father and sleep with his mother. Despite various attempts to keep this from happening, on the part of his biological parents, adopted parents and himself, he (spoiler alert!) ends up doing both of those things.

After his wife-mom kills herself, he plunges the pins of her dress into his eyes. Blinded, he begs for exile and comes to have limited prophetic ability. OK, so he’s blind to truth when he has clear vision. The blind prophet Tiresias is full of insight. And when Oedipus is blind, some insight returns to him.

There’s a line in the play where Tiresias says to Oedipus:

"So, you mock my blindness? Let me tell you this. You with your precious eyes, you're blind to the corruption of your life ..."

In Greek myth, hubris — an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities by those in power — is always followed by nemesis — divine retribution.

I could be wrong but I think that Costas is just living out a Greek tragedy before us. Let’s hope those eyes clear up and he can return, ever-so-slightly chastened, with clearer vision.

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