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Howard Cosell 1918-1995

Country : Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Profession : Sports Figure
Date of birth : 1918-03-25
Date of death : 1995-04-23
Cause of Death : Heart Failure

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Howard William Cosell (born Howard William Cohen; March 25, 1918 - April 23, 1995) was an American sports journalist.


Early life

Cosell was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to Nellie and Isidore Cohen, who was an accountant. He was raised in Brooklyn, New York. His parents had wanted him to become a lawyer. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in English from New York University, where he was a member of Pi Lambda Phi. He then went to the New York University School of Law where he earned his JD, and was a member of the NYU Law Review.


Cosell was admitted to the New York state bar in 1941, but when the U.S. entered World War II, Cosell entered the United States Army Transportation Corps, where he was quickly promoted to the rank of major, becoming one of the youngest majors to serve at that time. During his time in the service, he married Mary Abrams in 1944, at Prospect Presbyterian Church in Maplewood, New Jersey.

Early career

After the war, Cosell began practicing law in Manhattan, primarily in union law. Some of his clients were actors, and some were athletes, including Willie Mays. Cosell's own hero in athletics was Jackie Robinson, who served as a personal and professional inspiration to him in his career. Cosell also represented the Little League of New York, when in 1953 an ABC Radio manager asked him to host a show on New York flagship WABC featuring Little League participants. The show marked the beginning of a relationship with WABC and ABC Radio that would last his entire broadcasting career. Cosell hosted the Little League show for three years without pay, and then decided to leave the law field to become a full-time broadcaster. He approached Robert Pauley, President of ABC Radio, with a proposal for a weekly show. Pauley told him the network could not afford to develop untried talent, but he would be put on the air if he would get a sponsor. To Pauley's surprise, Cosell came back with a relative's shirt company as a sponsor, and "Speaking of Sports" was born.

Cosell took his "tell-it-like-it-is" approach when he teamed with the ex-Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher "Big Numba Thirteen" Ralph Branca on WABC-77's pre- and post-game radio shows of the New York Mets in their nascent years beginning in 1962. He pulled no punches in taking members of the hapless expansion team to task.

Otherwise on radio, Cosell did his show, Speaking of Sports, as well as sports reports and updates for affiliated radio stations around the country; he continued his radio duties even after he became prominent on television. Cosell then became a sports anchor at WABC-TV in New York, where he served in that role from 1961 to 1974. He expanded his commentary beyond sports to a radio show entitled "Speaking of Everything".

Cosell rose to prominence covering boxer Muhammad Ali, starting when he still fought under his birth name, Cassius Clay. The two seemed to be friends despite their very different personalities, and complemented each other in broadcasts.

Cosell's style of reporting very much transformed sports broadcasting. Whereas previous sportscasters had mostly been known for color commentary and lively play-by-play, Cosell had an intellectual approach. His use of analysis and context arguably brought television sports reporting very close to the kind of in-depth reporting one expected from "hard" news reporters. At the same time, however, his distinctive staccato voice, accent, syntax, and cadence were a form of color commentary all their own.

Cosell earned his greatest enmity from the public when he backed Ali after the boxer's championship title was stripped from him for refusing military service during the Vietnam War. Cosell found vindication several years later when he was the one able to inform Ali that the United States Supreme Court had unanimously ruled in favor of Ali.

In March 1971, he was calling a world heavyweight title bout involving Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali for ABC's Wide World of Sports when he made a call that would sound familiar to another boxer just two years later.

Perhaps his most famous call took place in the fight between Joe Frazier and George Foreman for the World Heavyweight Championship in Kingston, Jamaica in 1973. His call of Frazier's first trip to the mat became one of the most quoted phrases in American sports broadcasting history. Foreman beat Frazier by a TKO in 2 to win the World Heavyweight Championship.

During Cosell's tenure as a sportscaster, he maintained a feuding stance with legendary New York sports writer and columnist Dick Young, who rarely missed an opportunity to denigrate the broadcaster in print.

Monday Night Football / Later career

In 1970, ABC executive producer for sports Roone Arledge hired Cosell to be a commentator for Monday Night Football, the first time in 15 years that American football was broadcast weekly in prime time. Cosell was accompanied most of the time by ex-football players Frank Gifford and "Dandy" Don Meredith. Cosell's most infamous remark came during a Monday Night Football broadcast on Sept. 5, 1983, when Howard exclaimed, "Look at that little monkey run", referring to African American Washington Redskins receiver Alvin Garrett. This ultimately led to his stepping down from Monday Night Football about two months later.

Cosell was openly contemptuous of ex-athletes appointed to prominent sportscasting roles solely on account of their playing fame. He regularly clashed on-air with Meredith, whose laid-back style was in sharp contrast to Cosell's.

The Cosell-Meredith-Gifford dynamic helped make Monday Night Football a success; it frequently was the number one rated program in the Nielsen ratings. Cosell's inimitable style distinguished Monday Night Football from previous sports programming, and ushered in an era of more colorful broadcasters and 24/7 TV sports coverage.


Along with Monday Night Football, Cosell worked the Olympics for ABC. He played a key role on ABC's coverage of the Palestinian terror group Black September's mass murder of Israeli athletes in Munich at the 1972 Summer Olympics; providing reportage directly from the Olympic Village (his image can be seen and voice heard in Steven Spielberg's film about the terror attack). In the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, and the 1984 games in Los Angeles, Cosell was the main voice for boxing. He performed the sportscasting duties for Sugar Ray Leonard's victorious gold medal winning bout.

"The Bronx is Burning"

Game 2 of the 1977 World Series took place in blustery Yankee Stadium on October 12, 1977. An hour or so before game time, a fire started in Public School Number 3, an abandoned elementary school a few blocks from the ball park. By the time the game began at 8 p.m., the building was fully involved and the fire had gone to five alarms. A helicopter-mounted camera lingered on the scene for a few seconds and Cosell, who was calling the series for ABC, intoned in a weary voice, "There it is, ladies and gentlemen, The Bronx is burning."

Cosell misidentified the building as a tenement, many of which had indeed burned down in recent years as landlords fled the borough and burned their buildings for the insurance money. Cosell's comment seemed to capture the widespread sensibility that New York was on the skids and in a permanent state of decline. Author Jonathan Mahler abridged the quote and used it as the title for his 2005 book on New York in 1977, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning. ESPN produced a 2007 mini-series based on the book called The Bronx is Burning.

Non-sports related appearances

Cosell's colorful personality and distinctive voice were featured to fine comedic effect in a sports-themed episode of the ABC TV series The Odd Couple, as well as in the Woody Allen films Bananas and (in a brief cameo) Sleeper. Such was his celebrity that while he never appeared on the show, Cosell's name was frequently used as an all-purpose answer on the popular 1970s game show Match Game. Cosell also had a cameo in the 1988 movie Johnny Be Good featuring Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Michael Hall and Uma Thurman.

Cosell's national fame was further boosted in the fall of 1975 when Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell aired on Saturday evenings on ABC. This was an hour-long variety show, broadcast live from the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City and hosted by Cosell, which is not to be confused with the NBC series Saturday Night Live (which coincidentally also premiered in 1975 under its original title of NBC's Saturday Night). Despite bringing a young comedian, Billy Crystal, to national prominence and for showcasing the American TV debut of the Bay City Rollers, Cosell's show was canceled after three months. Cosell later hosted the 1984-1985 season finale of Saturday Night Live.

Beginning in 1976, Cosell hosted a series of specials known as Battle of the Network Stars. The two-hour specials pitted stars from each of the three broadcast networks against each other in various physical and mental competitions. Cosell hosted all but one of the nineteen specials, including the final one airing in 1988.

I Never Played the Game and reaction

After writing the book I Never Played the Game, which chronicled his disenchantment with fellow commentators on Monday Night Football, among other things, he was taken off scheduled announcing duties for the 1985 World Series (Tim McCarver subsequently took his spot alongside Al Michaels and Jim Palmer) and was released by ABC television shortly thereafter. In I Never Played the Game, Cosell coined the word "jockocracy" to describe how athletes were given announcing jobs that they had not earned.

In his later years, Cosell briefly hosted his own television talk show, Speaking of Everything, authored his last book What's Wrong With Sports, and continued to appear on radio and television, becoming more outspoken about his criticisms of sports in general.

Later life

Cosell was the 1995 recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. After his wife of 46 years, Mary Edith Abrams Cosell, known as "Emmy", died in the fall of 1990, Cosell appeared in public less and less until his passing away in 1995 from a heart embolism at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.

Cosell was placed as number one on David J. Halberstam's list of Top 50 All Time Network Television Sports Announcers on Yahoo! Sports.

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