Jimmy Snyder

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Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder
Jimmy Snyder 1971.jpg
Jimmy the Greek in 1971
Born (1918-09-09)September 9, 1918
Steubenville, Ohio, U.S.
Died April 21, 1996(1996-04-21) (aged 77)
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.

Dimetrios Georgios Synodinos (September 9, 1918 – April 21, 1996), better known as Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder, was an American sports commentator and Las Vegas bookmaker.

Life and career[edit]

Snyder was born Dimetrios Georgios Synodinos in Steubenville, Ohio. According to his New York Times obituary of April 22, 1996, Snyder's family roots were on the island of Chios, Tholo potami (Θολό Ποτάμι) in the Aegean Sea. As a teenager in Ohio, he became acquainted with bookmakers. Snyder and his wife Joan lost three of their five children to cystic fibrosis.[1]

According to his autobiography Jimmy the Greek, Snyder bet US$10,000 on the 1948 election between Thomas Dewey and Harry S. Truman, getting 17–1 odds for Truman to win. In a later interview he indicated that he knew Truman was going to win because Dewey had a mustache and "American women didn't trust men with a mustache".

He invested money in oil drilling and coal mining, but when those ventures failed, Snyder moved to Las Vegas in 1956 and began a weekly pro-football betting line.

The NFL Today[edit]

The sports line eventually led to a 12-year stint on the CBS Sunday morning show, The NFL Today, a pregame show for National Football League games. Known simply as "Jimmy the Greek," he would appear in segments with sportscaster Brent Musburger and predict the results of that week's NFL games. While already famous in gambling circles, his rough charm made him into a minor celebrity. He had fairly major conflicts with Brent Musberger (whom he once punched in the face at a bar when the show anchor basically called him stupid) and Phyllis George (whom he once brought to tears before a show by making an ugly comment about her husband, leading to a scenario where Jimmy would tape segments in advance with Musberger so that he and George were not on the set at the same time), but the core group was able to overcome them and continue CBS's massive Sunday ratings success for a long time.

As sports betting was (and remains) illegal in most of the United States, and was at the time a general social taboo, his segment would not overtly mention betting or gambling. Instead, Jimmy the Greek would predict the score of each game, for example, he would say the Los Angeles Raiders would beat the Los Angeles Rams 31-21. This allowed bettors who knew the line of the game to be able to deduce his selection when betting the point spread: If the spread in the example game was the Raiders by five, bettors would know Jimmy was picking the Raiders to beat it. The NFL was adamant about avoiding any official connections between gambling and the league, but Pete Rozelle was an acquaintance of Jimmy and made it clear that his work on CBS was acceptable.

Controversy[edit]

On January 16, 1988, he was fired by the CBS network (where he had been a regular on NFL Today since 1976) after commenting to WRC-TV reporter Ed Hotaling at Duke Zeibert's Washington, D.C. restaurant that African Americans were naturally superior athletes at least in part because they had been bred to produce stronger offspring during slavery:

The black is a better athlete to begin with because he's been bred to be that way, because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back, and they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs and he's bred to be the better athlete because this goes back all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trade … the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid …[2]

According to the New York Times obituary, Snyder expressed regret for his comments, remarking: "What a foolish thing to say." His CBS co-workers publicly stated that they did not agree with Snyder's theories and that they did not oppose CBS' decision to fire him. Black former NFL player Irv Cross said in the 30 for 30 documentary about Snyder that he worked alongside Jimmy for a long time and didn't consider him to be a racist at all. In the same documentary, Frank Deford sympathetically noted that Jimmy often tried to sound more educated than he actually was, and that his comments were basically him trying to make a point about a subject he knew nothing about.

Snyder also commented during the WRC-TV interview that if blacks "take over coaching jobs, like everybody wants them to, there's not to be anything left for white people."[3]

In 1991, Snyder sued the CBS network for age discrimination, defamation and breach of contract.[4] Snyder maintained that his firing aggravated his personal health problems, according to court papers.[4] Snyder's attorney, Jeffery L. Liddle, stated that by "firing and repudiating Mr. Snyder, CBS quashed his dream, his dignity, and his spirit." [4]

In popular culture[edit]

Snyder appeared in a cameo in the 1981 comedy film The Cannonball Run as a bookie. In the movie he offered 50–1 odds against Formula One driver Jamie Blake (played by Dean Martin) and gambler Morris Fenderbaum (played by Sammy Davis Jr.) winning the Cannonball coast-to-coast endurance race. Jimmy the Greek and Dean Martin were childhood acquaintances in Steubenville, Ohio.

On November 10, 2009, ESPN aired a show in their 30 for 30 series titled The Legend of Jimmy the Greek, which was produced by Fritz Mitchell. Commentary was provided by, among others, Brent Musburger, Irv Cross and Phyllis George from The NFL Today, plus Anthony Snyder Jimmy's son, as well as his brother Johnny and sister Angie. The show also acknowledges his role in the first sportcasts of poker tournaments.

Although Jimmy was largely unknown outside of the United States, in 1974 his name achieved international renown. After beating George Foreman to regain the world heavyweight championship, Muhammad Ali, in the midst of an interview with David Frost, looked into the camera and addressed his doubters. "All of you bow" he said. "All of my critics crawl...All of you suckers bow... If you wanna know any damn thing about boxing, don't go to no boxing experts in Las Vegas, don't go to no Jimmy The Greek. Come to Muhammad Ali."

He was parodied in an episode of The Simpsons, which is titled "Lisa the Greek".

Death[edit]

Snyder suffered from diabetes in his later years and died in Las Vegas of a heart attack on April 21, 1996 at the age of 77. He is buried at Union Cemetery in his native Steubenville.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jimmy the Greek faces his longest odds in a family fight for life; People, 26 October 1981
  2. ^ Quoted verbatim from ESPN's 30 for 30 series titled The Legend of Jimmy the Greek which aired on November 10, 2009
  3. ^ Wilmington Morning Star, Jimmy 'The Greek" Dies of Heart Failure, p. 5C
  4. ^ a b c The Milwaukee Sentinel, Jimmy the Greek sues over firing, Part 1, Page 3

External links[edit]