Bob Costas on Mitcham (and more)

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imageBob Costas, NBC’s prime time host for its coverage of the Beijing Olympics, talks about the network’s lackluster coverage of Matthew Mitcham in a wide-ranging interview with AfterElton.com.

The veteran sports journalist responded to criticism that NBC failed to discuss Mitcham’s life outside the pool in the same way it approached coverage of other Olympic athletes.

Mitcham was the only openly gay male competitor in Beijing, one of at least 11 gay, lesbian and bisexual athletes at the Games. His gold was one of seven medals won by gay athletes this year, one more than the 11 gay athletes nabbed in the Athens Games four years ago. Yet NBC’s coverage failed to note that or call attention to boyfriend Lachlan Fletcher, who sat with Mitcham’s mom in the Water Cube.

AfterElton.com: Since Matthew Mitcham was the only out gay male athlete at the games, and it was historic for an openly gay athlete to win such a high profile Olympic event, do you think it would have made a good story or been worth mentioning that fact?

Bob Costas: Yes, I do. I was not focused on it. It wasn’t like I was sitting there thinking, “Gee, I have a chance to get this in.” It was just something that wasn’t on my radar screen to be perfectly honest. But had it been, I would have thought it was a worthwhile thing to mention.

Why it wasn’t mentioned by the people covering the event, that’s up to them to answer. There’s lots of different dynamics, in all these things. So I’m not being critical of them for not mentioning it. But I think – generally speaking – especially if the guy is out…

Costas says he knew Mitcham is gay, but that it “wasn’t something I focused on while hosting.”

AE: Would you have been concerned that maybe this wasn’t something the audience wanted to hear?

BC: No. My concern would be the privacy and the personal prerogatives of the person involved. But if the person is already out, and actually thinks that it’s an issue and worth talking about – like John Amaechi, the NBA player, or Billy Bean the baseball player – why not?

In fact I had Billy Bean on the radio show about a year ago after Tim Hardaway made his comments and they banned him from the All-Star Game.

AE: But there was pretty extensive coverage of the event that he won. And he won in extraordinarily dramatic fashion. I mean the Chinese were expected to sweep. He received the highest score ever awarded for an Olympic dive. And to mention the historic nature of that just seems like it makes total sense.

BC: Yeah. And it might have been the kind of thing that could have been handled in a two or three minute profile. You know – Here’s this athlete: ba-boom.
AE: And you wouldn’t have been reluctant to do that?

BC: Oh, God, no.

Jim Buzinski, co-founder of Outsports.com, credits Costas for his frankness and puts the blame on the poolside commentators during Mitcham’s medal run.

To his credit, Costas did not dodge the question, though as host of the nightly prime time broadcast, one would not expect him to be able to focus on every athlete (”It was just something that wasn’t on my radar screen,” he said.) Also, after Mitcham’s winning dive and a brief celebration was shown, the network quickly went to coverage of myriad track and field finals. Diving was not the marquee event for a U.S. audience that night. The fault in not mentioning Mitcham’s orientation rests with the pool-side producer and commentators.

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