Bryant Gumbel On Sports Journalism: “Terribly Sycophantic” – TCA

A very candid Bryant Gumbel marked his first return to TCA in 19 years Thursday criticizing a number of issues facing sports, from the media’s lack of objectivity to underpaid NCAA players. Critics in the room sprung to Gumbel’s frankness, lobbing him with questions left and right. Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel first premiered in April 1995 and the show has since clocked 213 hour-long editions to date. Speaking about his last appearance at TCA, Gumbel said, “When you get to a certain age, you feel like you’re eating breakfast every 10 minutes.  Does it seem like 20 years? In some ways, yes, but in other ways ‘No.'”

Commenting on the state of sports journalism, Gumbel griped, “There’s so little of it practiced. What passes for sports coverage is terribly sycophantic. The media tends not to ask the same difficult questions that they ask of politicians and businessmen. We give people in sports a pass. It’s unfortunate, there are some abuses that go unreported and un-addressed.”  He later added, “The broadcast partner is the worst word in the English language. Once you have that, you’re not doing journalism.”

The unfair compensation of NCAA athletes “it’s just shameful,” remarked Gumbel. “In no other area are people asked to do so much for so little. The University of Texas is starting its own network; now they don’t’ have to pay the people. We’re coming off of this past weekend’s two highest cable shows of the year in NCAA.  The schools, coaches, sponsors and networks make a ton of money, but the kids get nothing. They’re getting a scholarship, but that’s not enough for what they’re asked to do.”

When the discussion turned to athletes using performance-enhancing drugs, Gumbel said, “I don’t have anything personal against those athletes who use EDs.  If you’re a professional athlete, you do whatever you want to maximize your earning potential.” As such, Gumbel believes that the Baseball Hall of Fame should laud Barry Bonds. “The simple reason is because I think he was the best baseball player long before he started hitting home runs, same thing can be said about Roger Clemens (and pitching).”

“Whenever an athlete fails,” said Gumbel answering a question about Tiger Woods’ personal crises, “they don’t break my heart because they failed me. They are like anyone else. They are flawed.  It was Charles Barkley who said ‘I’m no role model.'”

Bluntly hitting on FBI director Robert Mueller’s report today that the NFL never saw the former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice in-elevator video before the public, Gumbel shaked his head, “Isn’t it what you expected?! ‘I’m going to have an independent panel, and I’m paying them and hiring the same people that I’ve worked with before.'”

Talking about the credibility of his HBO series, Gumbel remarked, “I think we’re a sports show like Rocky was a movie about boxing. Boxing was the vehicle to talk about hope, dreams, class and race. That’s what we do. Sports is just a prism. We don’t care if a guy can dribble left or hit a breaking ball as well as he hits a fast ball.”

Real Sports has broken a number of stories on the struggles of the LGBT athletic community. “We’re at a point where we don’t want to risk being exploitative,” said Gumbel on whether more types of stories were in the works. “At a certain point, are we doing it for sensational value? It’s a mature question to ask. I’m proud we stepped up and did them.” But sticking to his journo principles is what is at the core of the HBO series. “Sometimes (crew members) ask me, ‘Hey did you hear from those people we do a story on? How did they like the story’ I don’t care if they did. I don’t want to be their friend.”

Said Gumbel, “I’d be lying if I told you that people don’t run from us. Sometime when people hear that we’re involved in a story, they run from us.”


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