In January 1988, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder crawled out on a proverbial limb and sawed it off, crashing his career in television to the ground, never to return.
Snyder shared his opinions on the superiority of black athletes with a Washington, D.C., television reporter. His comments widely were considered to be insensitive and racist and a firestorm of outrage followed.
CBS Sports promptly fired the 68-year-old Snyder, who at the time was winding down his 12th year on the pregame show “The NFL Today” and was in negotiations with CBS Sports for a three-year deal.
ESPN’s most recent entry in its “30 for 30”series -- “The Legend of Jimmy the Greek" –
details Snyder’s fall from grace. One senses from watching the broadcast that race issues were not where Snyder lived. His “The NFL Today” colleagues Brent Musberger
and Irv Cross -- black and a former NFL player -- came to Snyder’s defense.
What perhaps struck me most in the “30 for 30” broadcast was a reference that may have been a throw away for viewers not in the media but doubtless resonated with many of us who are: After 12 years on the air, Snyder apparently was mailing in his effort on his CBS broadcasts.
On the “30 for 30”broadcast, Dan Rather -- who had his own tumultuous departure
from CBS -- speculated that given a choice between making 40 phone calls for tidbits of insider and/or exclusive information that could prop up his segment on “The NFL Today” or going to the racetrack, Snyder chose the latter.
Snyder’s contacts had aged along with him and his pipeline was drying up. Keeping on top of his beat required greater hustle.
But it’s the price one pays for professionalism. You have to earn your keep. It’s also why journalism often is referred to as a young person’s game. The older practitioners of the craft typically wear out, lose their edge.
Journalists are like gamblers in their constant pursuit of action. But as with any adrenaline junky once the juice is gone you’re dead in the water.
Journalists are Type A folks who often don’t admit it and sometimes don’t know it. We wail about the pressure as though there’s a gun to our head and no choice but to glean for news, jonesing for our next scoop. But journalists’ dirty little secret is that we wouldn’t have it any other way.
For Snyder, horse racing represented action; by comparison, journalism represented a grind. The inglorious act of rubbing elbows with fellow bettors at racetracks eventually trumped tending to one of the best sports television gigs in the nation.
When he landed the CBS gig Snyder likely hustled to come up with juicy news tidbits. Perhaps he did so 10 years in, maybe even 11. But somewhere along the line it must have gotten old, felt tedious…felt like a job. Like so many media practitioners, Snyder burned out. The thrill was gone.
Snyder cultivated his Jimmy the Greek persona and reaped a bountiful harvest off it. But fields play out over time, don’t bear a rich harvest forever. It’s sobering when it’s your field and you’ve let it go south.
As the “30 for 30” broadcast details, Snyder’s TV role defined him and gave him legitimacy. Certainly he was crushed when he lost his CBS stint, cut deeply by public humiliation. But the tragedy of Jimmy The Greek isn’t that his views on race were exposed. The tragedy is that he outlived his life.