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Telling it like it is

Cosell and Ali
Howard Cosell, pictured here with The Greatest, wouldn't find anything funny about this piece from The Onion:
(Speaking of sports)

Cosell died in 1995, having retired three years before that, so chances are he's mostly unknown to a generation weaned on "SportsCenter," but the flamboyant TV sports personalities like those mentioned in the story linked above wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for Cosell — and if he were alive today, he would loathe them for the same reasons that make them an object of satire for The Onion. Howard had no use for the trite, the trivial, the boring, or the insubstantial—and he wasn't shy about letting people know it.

When Cosell died, The Washington Post called him "arguably the best-known and most controversial sports broadcaster in the history of the medium." And I didn't choose the photo of him with Ali lightly. Cosell was one of the first, if not the first, major sports reporter to honor Ali's wish to be known by his new name instead of by what he called his "slave name," Cassius Clay, after Ali joined the Nation of Islam in 1964. And Cosell became almost as controversial as Ali when he supported the fighter after Ali was stripped of his title for refusing military induction during the Vietnam War. From the Washington Post's obituary: "ABC was deluged with hate mail and telephone calls, including several threats on his life. Cosell once described some of the letters as making the request to the network to 'get that nigger-loving Jew bastard off the air.'" It is helpful to remember the times: the mid-'60s. Ali was cocky, outspoken and opposed to the war. My father once criticized him, saying he wasn't courageous because he didn't go to war. I argued that Ali's doing what he did and saying what he said exposed him to far more danger than the war would have. To be frank, I am surprised no one tried to kill him.

Cosell was an outspoken opponent of racism, but to me, that legacy is largely overshadowed by a remark he made on a Monday Night Football game in 1983 about Washington Redskins receiver Alvin Garrett. "Look at that little monkey run!" Cosell exclaimed (Garrett is black). I found the remark so troubling that today, nearly 26 years after the slur, I have no trouble remembering Garrett's name. Some 17 years after the utterance, an article in The New York Times noted that "it has long since been proven that Cosell called at least one white player and his own grandson the same thing," but I still find the remark disrespectful and hurtful. Sorry, Howard: to use your phrase, I have to "tell it like it is."

In its obituary, The Times said Cosell was "once simultaneously voted the most popular and the most disliked sportscaster in America," saying he "tended to be loved and loathed for the same undisputed characteristics: his cocksure manner and his ebullient, unqualified immodesty." What follows is a quotation that is vintage Howard:

"Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, verbose, a showoff," Cosell once said. "I have been called all of these. Of course, I am."

Latest Month

March 2017

Wish I'd Said It

Nota bene: “Fear has governed my life, if I think about it. ... I always feel like I’m not good enough for some reason. I wish that wasn’t the case, but left to my own devices, that voice starts speaking up.” – Trent Reznor

“I hate to say this, but not many people care what you do. They care about what you do as much as you care about what they do. Think about it. Just exactly that much. You are not the center of the universe.” — Laurie Anderson

"The path's not yours till you've gone it alone a time." – William Carlos Williams

“Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.” – Twyla Tharp

"My definition of peace is having no noise in my head." – Eric Clapton

"The wreckage of the sky serves to confirm us in delicious error." – John Ashbery

"We are all here by the grace of the big bang. We are all literally the stuff of the stars." – Dwight Owsley

"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream." – Vincent van Gogh

"It is only with the heart that one can see right; what is essential is invisible to the eye." — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"Forget about being a perfectionist, because entropy always wins out in the end." – Darren Kaufman.

"Impermanence. Impermanence. Impermanence." – Garry Shandling

"Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion." – Mark Twain

"There is no realm wherein we have the truth." – Gordon Lish

"Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere." – E.M. Forster

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe." – Frank Zappa

“I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” – Elmore Leonard

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” – Voltaire

• Journal title and subtitle: Ian Hunter, “Man Overboard”


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