Salute to Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, the show that sports fans needed

Salute to Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, the show that sports fans needed

Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel has been on the air for 29 seasons. Unfortunately, it will not make it to 30. Gumbel has decided to step away from the show and there will be no replacement. According to the Los Angeles Times, HBO has decided to end Real Sports, and no reason was provided.

Another media entity has decided that the juice for investigative journalism is not worth the squeeze. Real Sports had the resources, and the HBO cache, to tell sports stories from every corner of the planet. The program reported on racism in European soccer long before that “We are all monkeys” absurdity. It also helped put an end to a slavery practice in the Middle East in which boys as young as toddlers were held in captivity, and abused, for the practice of serving jockeys in competitive camel races before the aristocracy (the footage from the report is deeply disturbing.)

The host of the show for the entire run was Gumbel — a journalism prodigy. Born in New Orleans, and raised on Chicago’s South Side, he graduated from Bates College with a degree in Russian history. Two years later he was running the now defunct Black Sports Magazine when he was offered his first broadcasting job by KNBC in Los Angeles. At 31 years old he was leading NBC’s NFL studio coverage, and when he left the network entirely in 1997 Prince showed up to bid him farewell.

When HBO debuted Real Sports in 1995, Gumbel had been out of sports since the early 1980s, and had vowed to never return. What HBO presented him was a version of 60 Minutes, but with no sanitization. There were no broadcast standards to abide by or advertisers to satisfy. After a decade spent traveling the world and winning a wheelbarrow full of awards reporting on hard news, he told New York Amsterdam News’ Howie Evans one reason for his return was, “The sports world I left in 1981 bears little resemblance to the serious world of sports in 1995.”

Being that O.J. Simpson was on trial for double murder at the time, Monica Seles had been stabbed on the court at the French Open two years earlier, and Magic Johnson had retired twice from the NBA because of an HIV diagnosis, a regular, deeper conversation around sports was certainly necessary.

With some of the best journalists in the world at his side — Frank Deford, James Brown, and Andrea Kremer just to name a few — they attacked the societal issues of sports with all of their might. It is true that at the time there was a growing appetite for behind-the-scenes sports stories. When the Hertz commercial guy has his murder trial on television nearly 24 hours per day, it begs some questions about what else is going on in sports. However, Real Sports went far past morbid curiosity.

The program forced viewers to stare directly into societal evils that they thought they were getting away from while spending a few hours watching sports. Instead, watching that program could make viewers sometimes feel complicit in the horrors that take place at home and abroad.

There were also the stories that brought people the hope that sports inspires. Like the one about the New York firefighter who competed as a triathlete, and got run over by a bus but would recover to run in the New York City Marathon three years later.

Gumbel was correct in 1995 when he said that the time was right for Real Sports. Unfortunately, as he is getting ready to leave the program is needed more now than ever with news outlets withering and dying. The TikToks and YouTube highlights are entertaining, but there needs to be room for important stories to be told.

Hopefully, there will be some money in the sports media budget for a version of this type of reporting to live on in some way. But for those who have been along for the 29-year ride of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, we witnessed something special and greatly necessary.

Thank goodness he found the desire to go back to working in sports.

Original source here

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.