Bob Costas, Nay, All Of NBC Sports! Idiots, Every Last One.

So the favorite in today’s NBC-broadcast Kentucky Derby did precisely what he was expected to do and won the thing handily. When undefeated Big Brown (I reluctantly await next year’s lineup, sponsored by Fedex and DHL) came in five lengths ahead of second-place finisher and lone filly Eight Belles (above), the horse looked stunned that the Derby was so short. “What, that was it?” were his exact words. Big Brown’s jockey is kind of an asshole (what thinking being in a post-2005 world likens himself on national television to Tom Cruise? Creepy.) But I won’t hold it against his horse. I would, however, like to slap NBC around a little.

It took NBC anchor Bob Costa and his team twenty-odd minutes to even mention Eight Belles, who was euthanized almost immediately after her front ankles snapped across the finish line. Substantive information took longer, preceded by nonstop coverage of the winning owners leaping about in live, million-dollar-purse jubilation. At the New York Times, equine softy Alex Brown was live-blogging the Derby and pulled out his best passive-aggressive for the network: “NBC is choosing to focus on Big Brown,” he sniffed. “Death at the Derby,” screamed Matt Drudge in a rare display of appropriateness.

There are plenty of sights sicker and more gripping than confetti falling to the track around a still and prone horse (save me the HETA indignation, please), but it’s up there. Emmy-winning sportscaster Jack Whitaker once said “the horror of seeing a horse break down” was “like seeing a masterpiece destroyed.” Whitaker would know, having watched as filly darling Ruffian refused to stop running on her broken leg at Belmont Park in 1975. Wasn’t pretty. Protruding bones and such. Two decades later, the prolonged demise of Derby winner Barbaro was a ratings bonanza for NBC, and just about anyone else who covered the country’s ensuing absorption with the animal. Barbaro was so in vogue that his fans earned Deadspin’s unwavering disdain! You know you’re somebody when a Gawker Media blog takes the time to point out the many ways in which you are a nobody.

All of which explains why I’m extra annoyed at NBC’s insistence on focusing on the ho-hum (if efficient!) Big Brown win to the near complete exclusion of Eight Belles’ compelling story.

Go ahead and be impolitic and heartless, Oh Peacocksters. But for God’s sake (and the shareholders too!) don’t turn up your nose when a viewer-friendly ratings bonanza (now with extra pathos!) literally falls down at your feet.

It almost makes me think they didn’t actually receive that messengered copy of my world-famous manual On How To Be Constantly Right And Other Preachy Parables.

Jen R
May 3rd, 2008 at 8:13 pm

In fairness, they did mention Eight Belles right away. You must have missed it, but it certainly didn’t take 20 minutes.

I have to agree that their handling of the breakdown was very bad. I guess they’re contractually obligated to let all the sposors’ marketing jackasses mug for the cameras, but the whole spectacle really failed to treat Eight Belle’s death with the gravity it deserved.

May 3rd, 2008 at 8:53 pm

Yeah, they mentioned her briefly, but so cursorily that it sounded as though, at worst, she’d stubbed an eyelash. Were you as surprised as I was when the onsite vet turned to the camera with the outcome? NBC’s tone up until that point had been casual—what sticks in my craw is they didn’t change the tenor of their broadcast after that, which seemed to me both callous and stupid. However! They’re now billing the story as a tragedy—”Sadness Strikes”—on their website, which I’m sure will appease all those cranky animal-loving NYT commenters swamping the network’s inbox.

May 5th, 2008 at 2:48 am

Don’t confuse Bob Costas with a journalist. He’ll let PETA lead the discussion rather than perform any original analysis of his own.

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