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Howard Cosell, 1975.
|Born||Howard William Cohen
March 25, 1918
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
|Died||April 23, 1995
New York, New York
|Occupation||Journalist, author, radio personality, columnist, sports commentator, lawyer, television personality|
|Spouse(s)||Mary Edith Abrams "Emmy" Cosell (m. 1944–90); her death|
|Children||Jill Cosell, Hilary Cosell|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1941-1945|
|Unit||United States Army Transportation Corps|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Howard William Cosell (//; born Howard William Cohen; March 25, 1918 – April 23, 1995) was an American sports journalist who was widely known for his blustery, cocksure personality. Cosell said of himself, "Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, verbose, a showoff. There's no question that I'm all of those things." In its obituary for Cosell, The New York Times described Cosell's impact on American sports coverage: "He entered sports broadcasting in the mid-1950s, when the predominant style was unabashed adulation, [and] offered a brassy counterpoint that was first ridiculed, then copied until it became the dominant note of sports broadcasting."
In 1996, Howard Cosell was ranked #47 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.
- 1 Biography
- 1.1 Early life
- 1.2 Monday Night Football / Later career
- 1.3 Controversy
- 1.4 Later life and death
- 1.5 In popular culture
- 2 References
- 3 External links
Cosell was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to accountant Isidore Cohen and his wife Nellie Cohen. The grandson of a rabbi, he was raised in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in English from New York University, where he was a member of Pi Lambda Phi. He then earned a degree at New York University School of Law, where he was a member of the law review.
Cosell was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1941, but when the U.S. entered World War II, Cosell entered the United States Army Transportation Corps, where he was promoted to the rank of major. During his time in the service, he married Mary Edith Abrams in 1944 in a judge's chambers in Brooklyn.
After the war, Cosell began practicing law in Manhattan, primarily in union law. Some of his clients were actors, and some were athletes, including Willie Mays. Cosell's own hero in athletics was Jackie Robinson, who served as a personal and professional inspiration to him in his career. Cosell also represented the Little League of New York, when in 1953 an ABC Radio manager asked him to host a show on New York flagship WABC featuring Little League participants. The show marked the beginning of a relationship with WABC and ABC Radio that would last his entire broadcasting career.
Cosell hosted the Little League show for three years without pay, and then decided to leave the law field to become a full-time broadcaster. He approached Robert Pauley, President of ABC Radio, with a proposal for a weekly show. Pauley told him the network could not afford to develop untried talent, but he would be put on the air if he would get a sponsor. To Pauley's surprise, Cosell came back with a relative's shirt company as a sponsor, and "Speaking of Sports" was born.
Cosell took his "tell it like it is" approach when he teamed with the ex-Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher "Big Numba Thirteen" Ralph Branca on WABC's pre- and post-game radio shows of the New York Mets in their nascent years beginning in 1962. He pulled no punches in taking members of the hapless expansion team to task.
Otherwise on radio, Cosell did his show, Speaking of Sports, as well as sports reports and updates for affiliated radio stations around the country; he continued his radio duties even after he became prominent on television. Cosell then became a sports anchor at WABC-TV in New York, where he served in that role from 1961 to 1974. He expanded his commentary beyond sports to a radio show entitled "Speaking of Everything".
Cosell rose to prominence covering boxer Muhammad Ali, starting when he still fought under his birth name, Cassius Clay. The two seemed to be friends despite their very different personalities, and complemented each other in broadcasts. Cosell was one of the first sportscasters to refer to the boxer as Muhammad Ali after he changed his name and supported him when he refused to be inducted into the military. Cosell was also an outspoken supporter of Olympic sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith after they raised their fists in a "black power" salute during their 1968 medal ceremony. In a time when many sports broadcasters avoided touching social, racial, or other controversial issues, and kept a certain level of collegiality towards the sports figures they commented on, Cosell did not, and indeed built a reputation around his catchphrase, "I'm just telling it like it is."
Cosell's style of reporting very much transformed sports broadcasting. Whereas previous sportscasters had mostly been known for color commentary and lively play-by-play, Cosell had an intellectual approach. His use of analysis and context arguably brought television sports reporting very close to the kind of in-depth reporting one expected from "hard" news reporters. At the same time, however, his distinctive staccato voice, accent, syntax, and cadence were a form of color commentary all their own.
Cosell earned his greatest interest from the public when he backed Ali after the boxer's championship title was stripped from him for refusing military service during the Vietnam War. Cosell found vindication several years later when he was the one able to inform Ali that the United States Supreme Court had unanimously ruled in favor of Ali in Clay v. United States.
Cosell called most of Ali's fights immediately before and after the boxer returned from his three-year exile in October 1970. Those fights were broadcast on taped delay usually a week after they were transmitted on closed circuit. However, Cosell was passed over for perhaps his biggest assignment of his career, the first Ali-Joe Frazier bout in March 1971. Promoter Jerry Perenchio selected actor Burt Lancaster, who had never provided color commentary for a fight, to work the bout with longtime announcer Don Dunphy and former light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore. Cosell attended that fight as a spectator only. He would do a voiceover of that bout, when it was shown on ABC a few days before the second Ali-Frazier bout in January 1974.
Perhaps his most famous call took place in the fight between Joe Frazier and George Foreman for the World Heavyweight Championship in Kingston, Jamaica in 1973. When Foreman knocked Frazier to the mat the first of six times, roughly two minutes into the first round, Cosell yelled out
|“||Down Goes Frazier! Down Goes Frazier! Down Goes Frazier!||”|
His call of Frazier's first trip to the mat became one of the most quoted phrases in American sports broadcasting history. Foreman beat Frazier by a TKO in 2 to win the World Heavyweight Championship.
Cosell provided blow-by-blow commentary for ABC of some of boxing's biggest matches during the 1970s and the early 1980s including Ken Norton's upset win over Ali in 1973 and Ali's defeat of Leon Spinks in 1978 recapturing the Heavyweight title for the third time. His signature toupee was unceremoniously knocked off in front of live ABC cameras when a scuffle broke out after a broadcast match between Scott LeDoux and Johnny Boudreaux. Cosell quickly retrieved his hairpiece and replaced it. During interviews in studio with Ali, the Champion would tease and threaten to remove the hairpiece with Cosell playing along but never allowing it to be touched.
With typical headline generating drama, Cosell abruptly ended his broadcast association with the sport of boxing while providing coverage for ABC for the heavyweight championship bout between Larry Holmes and Randall "Tex" Cobb. Halfway through the bout and with Cobb absorbing a beating, Cosell stopped providing anything more than rudimentary comments about round number and the participants punctuated with occasional declarations of disgust during the 15 rounds. He declared shortly after the fight to a national television audience that he had broadcast his last boxing match.
During Cosell's tenure as a sportscaster, he frequently clashed with longtime New York Daily News sports columnist Dick Young, who rarely missed an opportunity to denigrate the broadcaster in print as an "ass," a "shill," or most often, "Howie the Fraud." Young would sometimes stand near Cosell and shout profanities so that the audio he was taping for his radio show would be unusable. Writing about Cosell, sportswriter Jimmy Cannon sniped, "This is a guy who changed his name, put on a toupee and tried to convince the world that he tells it like it is." He further added, "If Howard Cosell were a sport, he'd be roller derby.
Cosell, according to longtime ABC racecaster Chris Economaki, "had an enormous and monumental ego, and may have been the most pompous man I've ever met." Cosell ripped Economaki for a miscue in an interview with Cale Yarborough for ABC "(and he) never let me forget that." At an ABC Christmas party Economaki's wife asked to be introduced to Cosell and Chris said, "'Howard, for some inexplicable reason my wife wants to meet you...' and it (ticked) him off to no end. He really took it personally."
Monday Night Football / Later career
In 1970, ABC executive producer for sports Roone Arledge hired Cosell to be a commentator for Monday Night Football, the first time in 15 years that American football was broadcast weekly in prime time. Cosell was accompanied most of the time by ex-football players Frank Gifford and "Dandy" Don Meredith.
Cosell was openly contemptuous of ex-athletes appointed to prominent sportscasting roles solely on account of their playing fame. He regularly clashed on-air with Meredith, whose laid-back style was in sharp contrast to Cosell's more critical approach to the games.
The Cosell-Meredith-Gifford dynamic helped make Monday Night Football a success; it frequently was the number one rated program in the Nielsen ratings. Cosell's inimitable style distinguished Monday Night Football from previous sports programming, and ushered in an era of more colorful broadcasters and 24/7 TV sports coverage.
It was during his MNF run that Cosell coined a phrase that came to be so identified with football that other announcers and spectators—notably Chris Berman—began to repeat it. An ordinary kickoff return began with Cosell giving commentary about a player's difficult life. It became extraordinary when he suddenly observed, "He could go all the way!" As evidenced by the thousands of websites that cite Cosell's quote, many sports commentators consider this to be one of the most famous sports quips of all time.
Along with Monday Night Football, Cosell worked the Olympics for ABC. He played a key role on ABC's coverage of the Palestinian terror group Black September's mass murder of Israeli athletes in Munich at the 1972 Summer Olympics; providing reportage directly from the Olympic Village (his image can be seen and voice heard in Steven Spielberg's film about the terror attack). In the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, and the 1984 games in Los Angeles, Cosell was the main voice for boxing.
"The Bronx is Burning"
Cosell was widely attributed with saying the famous phrase "the Bronx is burning". Cosell is credited with saying the quote during Game 2 of the 1977 World Series, which took place in Yankee Stadium on October 12, 1977. For a couple of years, fires had routinely erupted in the South Bronx, mostly due to low-value property owners setting their own properties ablaze for insurance money. During the bottom of the first inning, an ABC aerial camera panned a few blocks from Yankee Stadium to a building on fire, giving the world a real-life view of the infamous Bronx fires. The scene became a defining image of New York City in the 1970s. Cosell supposedly stated, "There it is, ladies and gentlemen, The Bronx is burning." This was later picked up by candidate Ronald Reagan, who then made a special trip to the Bronx, to illustrate the failures of then-day politicians to address the issues in that part of New York City.
In 2005, author Jonathan Mahler published Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning, a book on New York in 1977, and credited Cosell with saying the title quote during the aerial coverage of the fire. ESPN produced a 2007 mini-series based on the book called The Bronx is Burning. Cosell's comment seemed to have captured the widespread view that New York City was on the skids and in a state of decline.
The truth was discovered after Major League Baseball published a complete DVD set of all of the games of the 1977 World Series. Coverage of the fire begins with Keith Jackson commenting on the enormity of the blaze, while Cosell added that President Carter had visited that area just days before. As the top of the second inning began, the fire was once again shown from a helicopter-mounted camera, and Cosell commented that the New York Fire Department had a hard job to do in the Bronx as there were always numerous fires. In the bottom of the second, Cosell informed the audience that it was an abandoned building that was burning and no lives were in danger. There was no further comment on the fire, and Cosell appears to have never said "The Bronx is Burning" (at least not on camera) during Game 2.
Mahler's confusion could have arisen from a 1974 documentary entitled "The Bronx is Burning": it is likely Mahler confused the documentary with his recollection of Cosell's comments when writing his book.
John Lennon's death
On the night of Monday, 8 December 1980, during a game between the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots, Cosell stunned the world by announcing the murder of John Lennon live while performing his regular commentating duties on Monday Night Football. Word had been passed to Cosell and Frank Gifford by Roone Arledge, who was president of ABC's news and sports divisions at the time, near the end of the game.
Cosell was initially apprehensive about announcing Lennon's death. Off the air, Cosell conferred with Gifford and others saying "Fellas, I just don’t know, I’d like your opinion. I can’t see this game situation allowing for that news flash, can you?" Gifford replied, “Absolutely. I can see it." Gifford later told Cosell, “Don’t hang on it. It’s a tragic moment and this is going to shake up the whole world.”
On air, Gifford prefaced the announcement saying, "And I don't care what's on the line, Howard, you have got to say what we know in the booth." Cosell then replied:
Yes, we have to say it. Remember this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous, perhaps, of all of The Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that news flash, which in duty bound, we have to take.
Lennon had once appeared on Monday Night Football, during the December 9, 1974 telecast of a 23-17 Washington Redskins win over the Los Angeles Rams, and was interviewed for a short breakaway segment by Cosell.
ABC had obtained this scoop as a result of the coincidence of an ABC employee, Alan Weiss, being at the same emergency room that Lennon was brought to that night. This unwittingly violated a request to the hospital by Lennon's wife, Yoko Ono, to delay reporting his death until she could tell their son, Sean, herself. Sean, age 5, was not watching the football game (or any television) that evening as it was near midnight, and Ono was able to break the news to him. NBC beat ABC to the punch, however, interrupting The Tonight Show just minutes before Cosell's announcement with a "breaking news" segment.
Cosell's colorful personality and distinctive voice were featured to fine comedic effect in several sports-themed episodes of the ABC TV series The Odd Couple, as well as in the Woody Allen films Bananas, Sleeper and (in a brief cameo) Broadway Danny Rose. Such was his celebrity that while he never appeared on the show, Cosell's name was frequently used as an all-purpose answer on the popular 1970s game show Match Game. Cosell also had a cameo in the 1988 movie Johnny Be Good featuring Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Michael Hall and Uma Thurman. His particular speech pattern was also imitated by one of the characters in the film Better Off Dead.
Cosell's national fame was further boosted in the fall of 1975 when Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell aired on Saturday evenings on ABC. This was an hour-long variety show, broadcast live from the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City and hosted by Cosell, which is not to be confused with the NBC series Saturday Night Live (which coincidentally also premiered in 1975 under its original title of NBC's Saturday Night). Despite bringing a young comedian, Billy Crystal, to national prominence and for showcasing the American TV debut of the Bay City Rollers (who later had a hit song by the name of "Saturday Night"), Cosell's show was canceled after three months. Cosell later hosted the 1984-1985 season finale of Saturday Night Live.
Beginning in 1976, Cosell hosted a series of specials known as Battle of the Network Stars. The two-hour specials pitted stars from each of the three broadcast networks against each other in various physical and mental competitions. Cosell hosted all but one of the nineteen specials, including the final one airing in 1988.
Criticism of boxing
Cosell denounced professional boxing in a November 26, 1982, bout between Larry Holmes and a clearly outmatched Randall "Tex" Cobb at the Astrodome. The fight was held two weeks after the fatal fight between Ray Mancini and Duk Koo Kim, and Cosell famously asked the rhetorical question, "I wonder if that referee [Steve Crosson] understands that he is constructing an advertisement for the abolition of the very sport that he's a part of?" Cosell, horrified over the brutality of the one-sided fight, said that if the referee did not stop the fight he would never broadcast a professional fight again.
Major boxing reforms were later implemented, the most important of which allows referees to stop clearly one-sided fights early in order to protect the health of the fighters. In amateur boxing, one-sided fights would be automatically stopped if one fighter had a score considerably higher than his opponent. Hitherto, only the ring physician had the authority to halt a bout. Another change was the reduction of championship bouts from 15 rounds to 12 rounds by the WBC. (The fatal blows to Kim were in Rounds 13 and 14.) The WBA quickly followed suit, and the IBF did so in 1988. Cosell did not cut off ties with the United States Amateur Boxing Federation. His 1984 broadcasts of the Olympic Trials, box-offs, and the 1984 Summer Olympics boxing tournament were his last professional calls of the sport; the overall competition included such up-and-coming stars as Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker and Lennox Lewis.
"Little monkey" comments
During the Halftime Highlights segment of Monday Night Football on September 24, 1973 Cosell said "Look at that little monkey run!" when describing a 97-yard kickoff return by Washington Redskins player Herb Mul-Key during the Sunday game against the St. Louis Cardinals. There was no outcry over this comment.
However, during a Monday Night Football telecast on September 5, 1983, Cosell said of Washington Redskins wide receiver Alvin Garrett, "That little monkey gets loose, doesn't he?" The Rev. Joseph Lowery, then-president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, denounced Cosell's comment as racist and demanded a public apology, but Cosell refused, citing his past support for black athletes and stating that "little monkey" was an affectionate term he had used in the past for diminutive white athletes (including Mike Adamle, for whom Cosell was on record using the term 11 years prior), as well as for his own grandson. Cosell left the Monday Night Football booth following the 1983 season, citing his waning interest in professional football.
I Never Played the Game and reaction
After writing the book I Never Played the Game, which among other things chronicled his disenchantment with fellow ABC commentators, Cosell was taken off scheduled announcing duties for the 1985 World Series and was released by ABC television shortly thereafter. In I Never Played the Game, Cosell popularized the word "jockocracy" originally coined by author Robert Lipsyte, describing how athletes were given announcing jobs that he felt they had not earned. Coincidentally, he was replaced for the 1985 World Series by Tim McCarver, himself a former baseball player, to join Al Michaels and Jim Palmer. The title of the book is often misunderstood to mean that he never actually played the game of football, but in reality it was chosen by Cosell to mean that he never played the 'corporate' game of politics. Cosell is notably absent from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In his later years, Cosell briefly hosted his own television talk show, Speaking of Everything, authored his last book (What's Wrong With Sports), and continued to appear on radio and television, becoming more outspoken about his criticisms of sports in general.
Later life and death
In 1993, Cosell was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. He was the 1995 recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. After his wife of 46 years, Mary Edith Abrams Cosell (known as "Emmy") died from a massive heart attack in the mid-1990s, Cosell largely withdrew from the public eye and his health began failing. He was diagnosed with cancer in 1991 and had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his chest. He also had several minor strokes, and was diagnosed with heart and kidney disease and Parkinson's. Cosell died in a New York City hospital on April 23, 1995, aged 77, of a cardiac embolism. He was placed as number one on David J. Halberstam's list of Top 50 All Time Network Television Sports Announcers on Yahoo! Sports. The sports complex at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem is named for Howard and Emmy Cosell.
In popular culture
The Muppets had a recurring character, Louis Kazagger, a plaid-clothed sportscaster with punctuated nasal inflection, that parodied Cosell.
- "NFL Top 10 Game Voices".
- "The Man in the Yellow Blazer". The New York Times.
- TV Guide (April 17-23). 1993. p. 62.
- "Special Collectors' Issue: 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time". TV Guide (December 14–20). 1996.
- Robert McG. Thomas Jr. (April 24, 1995). "Howard Cosell, Outspoken Sportscaster On Television and Radio, Is Dead at 77". New York Times.
- Howard Cosell profile ar Film Reference.com
- Leonard Shapiro. April 24, 1995. Howard Cosell Dies at 77. The Washington Post. Retrieved: 18 May 2013
- "Robert Pauley, Former Head of ABC Radio, Dies at 85," New York Times, May 14, 2009.
- William Plummer. "The Mouth That Roared". People.
- Nack, William. "Telling It Like It Is," Sports Illustrated, May 1, 1995.
- Economaki, Chris (with Dave Argabright) (2006) LET 'EM ALL GO! The Story Of Auto Racing By The Man Who Was There (Fisher, IN: Books By Dave Argabright), p. 191 ISBN 0-9719639-3-2
- Ribowsky, Mark (2011). Howard Cosell : The Man, The Myth, and The Transformation of American sports (1ère ed. ed.). New York: W.W. Norton & Co. p. 380. ISBN 9780393080179.
- "Howard Cosell Audio: Did not want to announce Lennon's death (VERY RARE)". Retrieved 29 September 2013.
- John Lennon Announced dead by Howard Cosell 1980 on YouTube
- Toni Monkovic (December 6, 2010). "Behind Cosell’s Announcement of Lennon’s Death". New York Times.
- ESPN Outside the Lines First Report, December 8, 2010
- "NBC TV bulletin - John Lennon is dead". Retrieved 29 September 2013.
- "Larry Holmes vs Tex Cobb - 4/4". Retrieved 29 September 2013.
- Howard Cosell - 'Little Monkey' Comments, Facts and Video Clips
- Billson, Marky (August 4, 2010). "As strange as it sounds, Howard Cosell has never won Rozelle award". Sports Illustrated.
- Howard Cosell: The Man, The Myth, and the Transformation of American Sports; ISBN 978-0-393-08017-9; W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.: New York, NY. © 2012
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