GLENN: Third most listened to show in all of America. Hello, you sick twisted freak. Welcome to the program. We have Bob Costas that's going to join us here in just a second. I have to tell you, if you listen to this program, you know I don't know jack about sports. I don't watch it, I don't know anything about it, never have, never followed it. But Bob Costas is probably the one guy, in fact not probably, is the one guy. If I hear his voice, if I'm flipping around on the channels and I see or hear Bob Costas, I stop because, A, I know it must be important; and B, I know it's going to be entertaining. He's beyond a sportscaster. He is just a great storyteller. Bob Costas, is he on with us? Bob, welcome to the program.
COSTAS: Glenn, after that introduction, I refuse to go on with you. Couldn't you be any kinder to me?
GLENN: Well, not really. I don't think so. We spent hours working on that, Bob.
COSTAS: More than I deserve.
GLENN: I have to tell you, I don't know if you know this. I do not know anything about sports. So you're going to have to excuse me from the getgo.
COSTAS: I do know that because in the brief encounters we've had, the very first time I met you, that was sort of your apologetic introduction and I say the same thing, I'll say to somebody when, you know, you're out to dinner and one party or another in the group apologizes to me and says, I know nothing about sports. And not only do I honestly say no apologies needed but at times it's almost a respite because sports is such a common denominator, everybody has an opinion on the Super Bowl or whatever and sometimes I'm more than happy to talk about almost anything else.
GLENN: Yeah, you've got to be the kind of guy that's like a doctor. When you go to cocktail parties, everybody's like, hey, listen, I got this thing growing on my foot.
GLENN: And the doctor's got to be, oh, jeez, come on, I'm just -- more cocktails, please. It's got to be that way at times where you're just like, can we just stop talking to me about sports?
COSTAS: Yeah. And you know, not only does that happen, and it's almost always good-natured but someone will come up to me on a plane and they will say, Bob, who's going to win the final four? And then I give them my best guess and then they act pained like, oh, no, I wanted it to be UCLA, as if I knew. And I always said, look, if I knew for sure instead of just guessing like you'd be guessing, I wouldn't be on a night to St. Louis. I'd be on my way to Vegas.
GLENN: What's the worst Bob Costas star thing that's ever happened to you? Like we -- I saw you in the bathroom the other day and I remember reading Paul Newman and he said, "I'll never give autographs because I was standing at a your natural and somebody said, you're Paul Newman, can I have your autograph." So we were in the rest room. I didn't say a word, we were in the rest room because, you know, what is the worst Paul Newman, you know, kind of Bob Costas event you've had?
COSTAS: Gee. You've got me stumped now. Oh, I'll give you one and this isn't really the worst. It was actually endearing and entertaining. I'm sitting literally on a bus bench waiting for some NBC colleagues to pull up and pick me up after a practice, the Chicago Bulls practice during the Michael Jordan era and they were playing in Los Angeles and it was a hot Saturday afternoon and they had gone to get a car and I had kind of lingered behind and they were going to swing over and pick me up. So while I'm waiting for them, I sit down at the curve on a bus bench and a homeless guy comes ambling up and he looks as ragged as sometimes those folks do with four or five layers of clothes and he's wearing a Dodger cap and the L.A. insignia's black with grime and he's got sneakers with no laces and he sits down at the other end of the bench and I kind of glance at him and he glances at me and about five seconds go by and he says, so Bob, you think the Lakers have a chance? And now I'm talking to this guy who's homeless but apparently he's got a TV. And I say, well, you know, blah, blah, blah, stop Michael Jordan, whatever. I swear, Glenn, this story's true. And he says to me, so you live in New York, huh? And I said, well, I grew up in New York, I do a lot of work in New York but actually I live in St. Louis. And the next words out of this guy's mouth are, so help me, St. Louis, huh? Are they going to put a Lord and Taylor in that new Galleria there? A homeless guy. I'm mind boggled. So now, now Ahmad Rashad and Marv Albert pull over and they honk the horn and I say, hold on, I've got to interview this guy now. I've got to get to the bottom of it. And I have my own thoughts. I'm thinking maybe he's considering relocating to the midwest and wants to make sure his favorite stores are represented. And I ask him what the deal is and he says, you know, he's only temporarily down on his luck, a business major graduate of USC and every day he reads the business section of the L.A. Times and he had just read an article a few days before about how local economies were being boosted by the building of malls and Gallerias, first with the construction jobs as they went up and then with the service jobs after they open. And I guess the guy just tucked it away as a possible conversational ice breaker in case he bumped into someone from St. Louis who he recognized from doing basketball games on TV. And that's when I say to myself, you know, the switch is such a common denominator, it cuts across everything.
GLENN: Do you have any idea what's happened to this guy since?
COSTAS: You know, I offered him games the next night, I gave him tickets to the game and we have since lost, we have since lost contact. On another occasion I was having dinner in Little Italy and John Gotti and some of his henchmen came in, early 1990s and they had been sitting there just a couple of minutes and the maitre d' came up and said, Mr. Costas, Mr. Gotti would like to buy you a drink and I'm thinking, I may have had enough to drink already but this is in the category of an offer you can't refuse. And I said sure.
GLENN: Yes, sir.
COSTAS: Another bottle of Chianti. And they bring it over. I swear to you, I was with a bunch of friends. So I look over at them, I raise my glass and I say, Mr. Gotti, thank you. He says, Bob, I like your work. I'm thinking, now what am I supposed to say? I like your work, too?
GLENN: I'm a big fan, John.
COSTAS: I'm a big fan. Nice rubout at Sparks Steakhouse?
GLENN: That's great, that's great. Let me take you to Beijing for a second.
GLENN: You know, you are going over. You're going to do the Olympics. What do you -- I mean, going back to Munich, this has the potential of being a real powder keg.
COSTAS: It does.
GLENN: What are your thoughts on this?
COSTAS: Well, we generally think -- hope this is true -- that regardless of the other problems that one of the byproducts of the kind of airtight government control that the Chinese exercise is that it's less likely than in some other places, less likely that there will be a specific act of terrorism directed at the games, not impossible but less likely. What seems --
GLENN: Do you think there could be not even, not even necessarily terror but some real bad riots or --
COSTAS: Yeah, there could be. That's just what I was about to say. There almost certainly will be political protests. Some of it will come from within China. Others may come from people outside who look at this as the single best chance to shine a meaningful light on whatever problems they have with the Chinese government. The IOC maybe should have taken this further into account when they granted the games to Beijing. Part of the argument at the time was, look, this is going to actually act as a spur to them to reform. They won't want to look bad on the international stage and this will help to further democratize and modernize their society.
GLENN: Are you going to be able to -- do you have any idea what the television contracts are like? Are you going to be able to cover that stuff if it's not live? Are you going to be able to take a camera out and cover anything that's happening around? Or are they going to shut you guys down?
COSTAS: Well, they talked about denying access to any journalist, denying access to Tiananmen Square among other places. I know negotiations are underway right now to see if they can get that lifted. NBC news is going to be there in full force, Nightly News, the Today Show, MSNBC, CNBC. So we certainly have the resources to cover not just the sports aspect but the news aspect and if the present tone continues or is even heightened, I don't see how you could possibly separate the two. We want to present the events and the pageantry because that is part of the Olympics but if the other sub text is there and it's kind of in our faces, then I don't think we can deny it. On the other hand if people tune in to watch the 100 meter dash final or the platform diving final and one guy in Row Z is holding up a placard of protest, I don't think you need to note that every single time. I don't think that the Olympics and prime time have to be Nightline or 60 Minutes. But when the politics kind of merges with the competition, then I think it's only common sense and responsible to cover that, too.
GLENN: I mean, in a way I feel -- and I feel torn because I think China is damn near evil, if not full out evil. It's kind of good that this has happened because people have gone along, seems like in America people are just like, oh, yeah, well, they're not that bad. Hey, they make products for us. This is a communist regime that is enslaving many of their people. It's not good. And this is a way really it's working out and I think what China was trying for. The people are starting to look at it and go, okay, wait a minute, maybe we shouldn't be involved. Do you think we should boycott the opening ceremonies or boycott all of it or just disregard?
COSTAS: We're not going to boycott all of it. I don't think that's going to happen. I think the President of Jimmy Carter's boycott with the '80 Moscow games of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the feeling is that it penalized a lot of athletes and it really didn't do much good. We understood what Carter's motivation was but the outcome didn't back up what his objective was. I think it's still possible that the U.S. and other nations could boycott the opening ceremony but I think President Bush's approach right now is that he would rather use it as a carrot to say, look, don't make me boycott this opening ceremony, don't make me join those nations that are already saying they are going to step aside. Make these changes, give me a good faith understanding that you are going to do some things that we'll be comfortable with and then I'll show up.
GLENN: I mean, Bob, they were sending us lead-covered toys and we didn't do anything. They were sending us toys covered in lead paint.
COSTAS: Yeah, you know, the whole world quivers at the thought of what happened if they were cut out of the Chinese economy.
COSTAS: You've got a fifth of the world's population, an economy growing at the rate of more than 10% a year. Without Chinese involvement, if you were to remove that, think of the impact on the American economy and a number of American corporations who are already linked with China. So it's a complicated situation.
GLENN: Hey, let me change the subject to Tiger Woods who I think is the ultimate male. I mean, he's rich, he's good looking, he's a good guy, married to a supermodel, lives a lot of time on a boat. I mean, how sweet is that life?
COSTAS: You can find much to criticize about that.
GLENN: No, you really can't. Let me ask you this. I saw this story last week and it was in, I think Advertising Age or something like that. I didn't even know they did this. Is it really, is it like this with all golfers? This is right from an advertising agent. Nike has already scripted what Tiger Woods is going to wear each day at the Masters. Thursday it's a pink and khaki striped polo shirt with khaki pants, today is a mock black turtleneck with gray plaid pants. Saturday Tiger will wear a white striped polo shirt with black pants. On Sunday a magenta and pink polo with pink vertical stripes and black pants. He is wearing a white hat for the first three rounds and a black hat on Sunday. His wear will be available retail, blah, blah, blah. Final decision has also been made for what he's wearing at the U.S. open. Is it really that scripted for everybody?
COSTAS: Not for everybody. Most of the tough golfers have some kind of connection with one company or another and you'll see they're wearing caps or shirts that promote that company. But Tiger's in a world of his own. When Tiger isn't in a tournament or when he's not high on the leader board, the television ratings plummet. His mere premise jacks the television ratings up and he is -- Nike has taken to the -- I mean, they don't give Tiger Woods, "Hey, what do you wear, Tiger, you wear a large, an extra large, a medium, here it is off the rack." No, they make these things for him form-fitting. He is in perhaps the best physical shape of any golfer we've ever seen. They make these things almost like a superhero outfit for him. You can't take your eyes off of him. He just has such a striking physical presence and they know that in addition to selling golf equipment and what not, people are going to look at Tiger Woods and these outfits and say, hey, where do I get one of those. And Nike will happily sell it to you. The difference is you will not look like Tiger Woods once you put it on.
GLENN: Yeah. You know what, have you noticed he is starting to look more and more like his dad?
COSTAS: Well, I notice he's losing a little bit of hair, which is the one flaw maybe in his physical appearance. When he takes his hat off in celebration times, you can see that, but --
GLENN: I saw a picture. Look at -- let's see. This is the New York Times. Look at the sports page, front sports page of the "New York Times," him at the Masters. I think he is starting to look more and more like his dad. Maybe it's just the shot. Is he the most dominant athlete of all time?
COSTAS: You know, you can make a case that no one has ever been better at their sport than Tiger Woods. As great as Michael Jordan was and he won the six titles and all the scoring championships, I don't think other people felt like they had almost no chance to beat him. The other golfers know that if Tiger has his A game, they're cooked, that they're playing for second place. I don't know that Babe Ruth at his best or Wayne Gretzky at his best or whomever you want to note was better at their sport or as good at their sport as Tiger Woods at his best is to golf. Now, some people would argue that even though golfers clearly aren't athletes, they are not the same as Olympic athletes or basketball players or football players, that maybe it's in a different category. But if we consider them all the same, then I couldn't put anybody ahead of Tiger Woods.
GLENN: Bob, I have to tell you and I don't even know if I want the answer to this one. We had a guy on yesterday and he was introducing John McCain at a rally and he was talking about how heroes now are sports figures and, you know, there are real heroes out there, and sports figures are, you know, guys that, you know, they make money. That's their job. They are not real heroes. And he used Tiger Woods, he said, you take Tiger Woods, I got John McCain. Tiger Woods is probably an exception to that rule. He's a guy that I wouldn't mind my son looking up to because he's worked hard, he's really studied it. He has worked on his craft. He's a decent guy, et cetera, et cetera.
GLENN: Is he really that guy?
COSTAS: Well, I don't know him that well, but from what I know of him, I think he's certainly admirable in many ways. Some people criticize him as they've criticized other black athletes of his generation for not being as outspoken on social issues as some of their predecessors. You know, in that respect he's not a Muhammad Ali or a Bill Russell or a Jackie Robinson or Arthur Ashe or someone like that, although societal conditions have changed and maybe the issues aren't as stark now as they were then but that is one criticism that you'll hear of Tiger Woods or of Michael Jordan. You know, I'm always very reluctant to label a sports figure a hero. You know, when I was a kid, I loved Mickey Mantle. He was a baseball hero but even when I was 10 years old, I wasn't thinking to myself, how can I be like Mickey Mantle as a person. I didn't know Mickey Mantle as a person. He was my favorite baseball player and he was in that context a heroic baseball player. I think what you can do with sports figures is the best of them are metaphors for excellence and determination and you can take something from that. But I don't think you should make the leap that the whole array of human qualities automatically attach themselves to someone who's good at a game.
GLENN: Bob Costas, what a pleasure to have you on. We'll talk to you again soon. Thanks, man.