Jimmy Snyder (sports commentator)
Jimmy Snyder in 1971
|Born||Dimetrios Georgios Synodinos
September 9, 1918
Steubenville, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||April 21, 1996
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Resting place||Union Cemetery
Steubenville, Ohio, U.S.
|Other names||James George Snyder, Sr.
Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder
Early life and career
Snyder was born in Steubenville, Ohio. According to his New York Times obituary of April 22, 1996, Snyder's family roots were in the village of Tholopotami (Θολoποτάμι), on the island of Chios in the Aegean Sea. As a teenager in Ohio, he became acquainted with bookmakers.
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
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 (NFL) 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 Musburger (whom he once punched in the face at a bar when the show anchor insulted his intelligence) and Phyllis George (whom he once brought to tears before a show by making a comment about her husband, leading to Jimmy taping his segments with Musburger in advance 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' massive Sunday ratings success for several years.
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 NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was an acquaintance of Jimmy and made it clear that his work on CBS was acceptable.
Racial comments and dismissal
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 …||”|
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 did not 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.
In 1991, Snyder sued the CBS network for age discrimination, defamation and breach of contract. Snyder maintained that his firing aggravated his personal health problems, according to court papers. Snyder's attorney, Jeffery L. Liddle, stated that by "firing and repudiating Mr. Snyder, CBS quashed his dream, his dignity, and his spirit." Snyder lost the case.
In popular culture
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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. Snyder 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 Snyder 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."
Snyder was referenced in an episode of The Golden Girls titled "And Ma Makes Three." Rose asks Dorothy if she's really going to dump her mother in order to spend alone time with her boyfriend, Dorothy responds with "Faster than CBS dumped Jimmy the Greek."
- Quoted verbatim from ESPN's 30 for 30 series titled The Legend of Jimmy the Greek which aired on November 10, 2009
- Wilmington Morning Star, Jimmy 'The Greek" Dies of Heart Failure, p. 5C
- The Milwaukee Sentinel, Jimmy the Greek sues over firing, Part 1, Page 3
- Text of Snyder vs CBS Inc, 204 A.D.2d 252 (1994), 612 N.Y.S.2d 147 is available from: Leagle
- Jimmy the Greek faces his longest odds in a family fight for life; People, 26 October 1981
- Jimmy Snyder at Find a Grave
- Pace, Eric, "Jimmy (the Greek) Snyder, 76, Is Dead; a Sports Oddsmaker," The New York Times, 1996-04-22.
- CNN SI item on Jimmy
- Commercial with Jimmy the Greek for Tuffy Auto Centers
- Article by Jonathan Rowe in Washington Monthly, April 1988 (Article examining the validity of Jimmy Snyder's racial comments. "Jimmy the Greek got it wrong but so did his critics")
- White, Jack E. (February 1, 1988). "Of Mandingo and Jimmy "the Greek"". Time. Retrieved 2008-05-21.
- on YouTube