Geoffrey Lansdell is a Montreal-based sports writer and freelance journalist. He has written over 100 sports and pop culture articles for the online men’s magazine AskMen.com and published two books: "Weird Facts About Curling" (2008), an anecdotal history of curling; and "Alexander Ovechkin" (2009), the first biography on Ovechkin.
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I just watched the Ali story on HBO and it brought up a question in my mind. Why isn't Howard Cosell ever mentioned in sport circles. I think the NFL in America wants him written out of sports history.
In the 25th Anniversary Edition of Monday Night Football VHS video, Howard Cosell wasn't even mentioned. Howard Cosell was Monday Night Football!
How can the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton ohio 'legitimately' write the history of professional football without a single mention of the iconic Howard Cosell?
In an ongoing act of retribution for his being a USFL witness in the antitrust lawsuit against the NFL in 1986, Howard Cosell appears to have been permanently banned from receiving the Pete Rozelle Radio-TV Award for broadcasting by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
I dislike the word "blacklisted," but I believe there has been collusion on the part of the NFL to keep Howard Cosell out of the Professional Football Hall of Fame. The reason? For the simple act of his telling the truth, or as Cosell would say, for "telling it like it is."
In 1983, Howard Cosell retired from ABC Monday Night Football to spend more time with his family. In 1985, the iconic sports broadcaster Howard Cosell wrote his third book, this time with Peter Bonventre, titled "I Never Played the Game." The book featured Cosell's critical observations and honest opinions about the state of professional sports at that time, including his colleaques in the broadcast booth namely his friend Frank Gifford. The release of this book ultimately cost Cosell his job at ABC Sports, and was banned by the NFL Front Office and by the Pro Football Hall of Fame from ever receiving the Pete Rozelle Radio-TV Award given to broadcasters.
In 1986, Cosell spent two and a half hours on the stand when he testified as a USFL witness in its $1.69 billion antitrust suit against the NFL. The USFL alleged that the NFL pressured the three major networks into denying it (USFL) a contract for its switch to the fall, and asked that the established league be thrown off at least one network. The USFL contended that the NFL's broadcast arrangements with the three networks prevented the USFL from competing against the established league in the fall.
Why Howard Cosell Belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame
The Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award is given annually by the Pro Football Hall of Fame to an iconic football broadcasting figure for "longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football." Yet for the 23-year history of the award, there has been one glaring oversight: Howard Cosell has not yet won it.
With Howard Cosell's exceptional contributions to professional football, how can the Pro Football Hall of Fame write the history of football without Howard Cosell?
Professional football would not be what it is today without Howard Cosell. To fans, football is just a "game," but to the NFL it is "big business." It is almost certain that the reason the NFL has excluded Howard Cosell from its Hall of fame is payback for his third book "I Never Played the Game" which he authored in 1985. The book was given that title not because Cosell never played football, but because he never played the corporate games the NFL expected him to play. After his book was published the sports and TV world turned against Howard Cosell. In the book he used his journalistic skills to expose the falsehoods of sports and media. The book exposed all of the stereotypes and ripped down the curtain that allowed the NFL and broadcast networks to benefit off what once was once pure sport turned into entertainment for their own profit.
It is certainly true that Howard Cosell was misunderstood by some fans, certain print writers, and perhaps even by some of his colleagues. Cosell received death threats from fans for not picking their favorite teams for review during his weekly "Halftime Highlights" on Monday Night Football. Cosell was also hated because he was Jewish. Then there was jealously on the part of the print media sportswriters because Howard Cosell was garnering attention by breaking new ground in the television media.
Whether glaring oversight or deliberate snub, Cosell needs no explanation of why he belongs. Monday Night Football made the NFL the dominant professional sports league in America. Cosell was simply the most famous radio and television sportscaster of all time and the lead of the classic Monday Night Football broadcast team of the 1970s and early '80s. Everyone else associated with that team; Frank Gifford, Don Meredith, Dan Dierdorf, and producer Roone Arledge, have won the award.
Cosell was a true journalist with a heart for serving the public interest. A lawyer by trade, Cosell ventured where few others in the sports media had the courage to go. Whether it was a discussion of athletes of color in sports, free-agency, illegal drugs, anti-trust laws, player strikes, owners unjustly moving teams, and increasing fan violence. Howard Cosell was much more than a reporter, he was a purveyor of truth, unafraid to offend those who would take offense. For all his many quirks and faults, he was a loyal and loving husband, a family man, a crusader against racial prejudice, and an educated professional.
Howard Cosell towered among sports broadcasters. One could easily make a case that Howard Cosell was the single most important sports journalist ever. Cosell certainly played a pivotal role in transforming ABC Sports from the "Almost Broadcasting Company" to "The House that Cosell Built." In the 1970's Howard Cosell was inarguably the lightening-rod and "soul" of Monday Night Football, part of a three man team assembled by Roone Arlege that brought the game of football into the cultural mainstream. Cosell entertained his audience as part linguist, and part word-smith with a distinctive hesitating staccato delivery that demanded the audience's attention. At the height of his popularity, Cosell may have been the most parodied and imitated voice in America, the focus of countless conversations at the office water cooler. Cosell's iconic style distinguished Monday Night Football from previous sports programming, that began to usher in an era of other color commentators in broadcasting. Huge TV contracts generated huge profits with advertisers, players salaries escalated, as did profits for the team owners as well as for the cites they hosted teams in. The television rights to broadcast National Football League (NFL) games are now the most lucrative and expensive rights of any American sport.
Quotes from colleagues:
"Every person working in sports journalism today owes a tremendous debt to Howard Cosell. His greatest contribution was elevating sports reporting out of daily play-by-play and placing it in the larger context of society."
-- Roone Arledge, the late former President of ABC Sports
"History will reflect that Howard Cosell was easily the dominant sportscaster of all time."
-- Al Michaels, ABC Monday Night Football
"His coda, more than anything else, is his singularity - a long lost quality in the postmodern culture that has wiped men like him off the slate." "Howard Cosell made his own mold, and then broke it when he was done."
-- Mark Ribowsky, Author
"I remember him as someone who was an important journalistic figure, and I think to deny that is to let your prejudices get in the way."
-- Frank Deford, Author, Sportswriter
"To voices what the Grand Canyon is to ditches."
-- Dave Kindred, Sports Journalist, author
"Howard was a true original. He rose like a screeching comet and left a trail that no modern broadcaster has ever dared to follow. There will never be another like him."
-- NFL Films, Steve Sabol
''Nothing could top Howard Cosell's Halftime Highlights. I used to look at Howard's highlights with reverence.'' -- Chris Berman, ESPN
"Howard Cosell was Monday Night Football. Without Howard Cosell, there was no Monday Night Football."
-- Chet Forte, former Director of ABC Monday Night Football
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