Without Howard Cosell, Who Will Tell It Like It Is?
Anyone who grew up watching sports in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s certainly remembers Howard Cosell, the legendary ABC sportscaster, who died twenty-six years ago this week, on April 23, 1995 at the age of 77. The Jewish lawyer turned broadcaster from Brooklyn, with the nasally voice was famous for his polysyllabic vocabulary and known for his memorable lines that he used to revolutionize the industry at a time when sports announcers were mostly predictable and mundane.
To this day, the three words, “Down Goes Frazier,” could very well be one of the most famous sports lines ever uttered.
For thirty plus years, Cosell’s ubiquity, insights, and color commentary drove “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” to the top of the ratings for boxing, baseball, and "Monday Night Football," where he served from 1970 to 1983.
But Cosell who was defined by his trademark phrase, “telling it like it is,” and lived by the credo, “What's right isn't always popular, what's popular isn't always right,” was one of the most polarizing and controversial figures of his era.
The controversy for Cosell began when he was one of the few sports journalists who began referring to Cassius Clay as Muhammad Ali. Cosell was also among the only prominent reporters who defended Ali from the harsh treatment by the press and the boxing commission, after his refusal to serve in the Army during the Vietnam War on April 28, 1967.
Ali, who famously said, “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong,” was promptly fined $10,000, stripped of his boxing license by the New York State Athletic Commission, sentenced to five years in prison, and banned from boxing in all fifty states for three years. Although Ali did not serve any jail time, he went from being the undefeated heavyweight champion at the age of 25 to unemployed. His next fight did not occur until he was nearly 29 years old.
Cosell’s support of Ali came at a great cost, as he would receive death threats and anti-Semitic hate mail for his support of Ali.
As Cosell said in 1974, “My god the man refused to take a step, there had been no arraignment, no grand jury presentment, no indictment, no trial, no conviction, no appeal, no appeal to the next court, no appeal to the court of last resort, which the Supreme Court would certainly hear in this kind of case... and the man is stripped of his duly achieved property right, in his right to earn a living.”
Aside from Cosell’s support of Ali, he also defended Jackie Robinson, who was attacked by the press towards the end of his life for supposedly selling out and earning money to support his family from a variety of sponsors, including Look magazine. As Cosell said in a heartfelt eulogy for Robinson, “The sports writers turned on this extraordinary man who had had bestiality heaped upon him.... he was the most unconquerable man I’ve ever known.”
Cosell also railed against the National Football League (NFL) for their violations of antitrust laws, Major League Baseball (MLB) for their unfair labor practices, and he went before a congressional committee to advocate for boxing reform.
Cosell refused to call another boxing fight after Larry Holmes bludgeoned the hapless Randall "Tex" Cobb for fifteen rounds in 1982. "I wonder if that referee understands that he is constructing an advertisement for the abolition of the very sport that he is a part of?” Cosell said near the conclusion of the match.
But if Cosell were still around today, one wonders what he would think of today’s woke athletes? What would he say about a washed up quarterback named Colin Kaepernick who slanders law enforcement, and considers himself a victim, even though he received millions of dollars from Nike for saying in a commercial, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
What would Cosell say about Lebron James, who earned $88 million last year and has an estimated net worth of $450 million, but has more respect for Communist China than he does for his home country? What would he think about James inciting violence against a white cop after he tragically killed a black girl, who was attempting to stab another black girl.
Cosell was always looking out for athletes who had actual grievances and were unfairly persecuted. He defended them, even when it hurt him politically.
Ali, Robinson, and many other athletes of that era faced significant obstacles, but Kaepernick and James have not had to sacrifice anything. They are rewarded by a subservient press and woke owners who praise them for portraying themselves as victims.
If only Cosell were still around to tell it like it is.
David Keltz was a speechwriter for the Administrator at the U.S. General Services Administration from 2020–21 and is the author of the new book The Campaign of His Life and Media Bias in the Trump Presidency and the Extinction of the Conservative Millennial. He previously served as a White House Intern for Vice President Mike Pence. You can follow him on Twitter @david_keltz.
To comment, you can find the MeWe post for this article here.