What Was Bryant Gumbel Thinking?
By Ed Phillips
(originally posted in February 2006)
Bryant Gumbel has been a has-been ever since NBC canned him from the Today Show (the official line is that he stepped down but lack of appeal has a predictable way of determining career paths in television). No longer able to land a regular gig in network television due to his smug superiority and general unlikableness, the former Today show co-host, apparently bitter over his career derailment into premium cable access, decided to inject a ridiculous race angle into the Winter Games, broadcast this year by his former employer. Was his motivation to gin up controversy and thus, interest in his show and earn some “street cred” by applying a racial pejorative to Republicans? It’s baffling because HBO subscribers have been watching his show for ten years. During a recent broadcast, he had this to say in his closing monologue:
“Finally, tonight, the Winter Games. Count me among those who
don’t like them and won’t watch them …
Ironically “don’t like it and won’t watch it” is also the most commonly polled description of the Today Show shortly before Gumbel’s departure.
Because they’re so trying, maybe over the next three weeks we should
try to…Like, try not to be incredulous when someone attempts to link these games to those of the ancient Greeks who never heard of skating or skiing.
The ancient Greeks also competed in the nude Bry. That alone explains their reluctance to skate, luge, or engage in any activity in which ice and sharp blades play a role, the unavailability of snow notwithstanding. Gumbel’s argument about linking the Winter Games with the ancient Greeks is a red herring…nobody makes serious direct comparisons. His real objection to the Winter Games is revealed in his next sentence.
So try not to laugh when someone says these are the World’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention.
So, Bry couldn’t resist the black-athletes-are-superior-to-whites argument…who would have thought it? Of the countries participating in the Winter Games (primarily European, all of Scandinavia plus some Asian notables) only the US has a significant heterogeneous population in which athletes of African descent reside in appreciable numbers, as equals, alongside the majority population. Name another non-African or non-Caribbean country with more than a handful of black winter or summer athletes. Unless Gumbel is prepared to forcibly relocate thousands of black families to countries where there is snow and make them to take up skating and hockey, where’s his beef with a mostly white contingent of Winter athletes? Is it his insinuation that non-whites aren’t welcome in these countries? Clearly they are! One need only look at the current political trouble in France, Holland, Denmark and elsewhere to see that these Winter Games powerhouses have an open-arms policy toward people of color…can they help it if blacks don’t want to live there? The GOP joke is just too tired to comment on. He continued:
Try not to point out that something’s not really a sport if a pseudo-athlete waits in what’s called a kiss-and-cry area, while some panel of subjective judges decides who won…
OK, Bryant’s a guy (a high-maintenance, metro-sexual from what I can tell but a guy none the less) so I get the whole skating-is-an-art-not-a-sport thing. I don’t agree but I get it. He also offers the purists argument, that unless there’s an objective score earned solely by the competitors, it’s not valid competition to determine winners and losers. As I live and breathe, his is a well thought out argument based on logic and reason, all too rare among liberals like Gumbel. He finished with this:
So if only to hasten the arrival of the day they’re done, when we can move on to March Madness---for God’s sake, let the games begin.”
Evidently, Gumbel’s viewing preference is for sports in which there are a disproportionate number of blacks to whites (NFL, NBA, NCAA, Summer Olympics, etc). That’s great, but I suspect that if speed skating or ski jumping teams ever develop significant black representation, Gumbel would develop an interest in those sports as well.
No where, more so than in Olympic sports, is there equal opportunity for individual, achievement and success. Gumbel seems to be fixated on significant minority representation, regardless of that minority’s lack of desire to represent. His lament about the scarcity of black athletes in the Winter Games serves to illustrate his racist notion that if blacks choose not to participate, then it’s not a real sport, since, in his mind, everybody knows blacks are better athletes than whites. Bryant Gumbel might do well to rethink his position on race and sports in general. While he is free to prefer sports with large minority representation, viewers are free to prefer talk show hosts with less offensive opinions. To be certain, speech is free, but that is not to say it doesn’t come with a price.