Monday, July 12, 2004

Telling it like it is 

One of my icons is the late great Howard Cosell. He's a man who really defined sports journalism and was really able to transcend that role into a platform for much larger social issues. Years later, there have been no others who remotely approach him. Seems a bit random to bring up, but I do so because ESPN is ranking their 25 "most outrageous characters in sports" as part of their 25th anniversary. Cosell is among the names listed. Columnist Jeff Merron writes a strong article that dismisses Cosell as being "outrageous" and instead champions him in a much higher regard; above the Don Kings and George Steinbrenners and Mike Tysons of the world. Those guys are "outrageous." While Cosell was certainly a character, he was revolutionary in his profession. Not really something that translates to "outrageous." Cosell brought an extra dimension to his interviews and broadcasts. It was one of actual insight and a greater understanding of the very large social ramifications that sports can have. Unionization, Civil Rights, War, these topics are all taboo in sports. They're not escapist or "entertaining." What is not only entertaining, but engaging, is someone who is willing to tackle those subjects when they are, in fact, related to sports topics or personas. He wanted to debate. He wanted to make an issue out of the big issues and he wanted you to get fired up about it. For as much as I've read up on him, I can't help but imagine how revolutionary the experience of listening to him shape and change our opinions must have been.

There are dozens of skilled, highly compensated, entertaining, well-coifed sportscasters, but how many ask the truly tough questions, or provide provoking commentary on sports-related issues? Only one comes immediately to mind -- Charles Barkley. He's willing to go against the grain, sometimes unpredictably, willing to jar us out of our infotainment stupor. But still, Barkley's no journalist.

All due respect to Sir Charles (who really is the most engaging, challenging personality in sports broadcasting today), he's just a former basketball player. Sadly, that means a lot of his opinions will be dismissed. We need more Howard Cosells in this world. Someone to call bullshit on the establishment, on doping, on scandal, on prejudice. Maybe I should step up to that.

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