At the World Series, idiots below the ABC broadcasting booth chanted an obscenity at Howard Cosell. One threw a pair of pliers at him. In Baltimore, boobs angrily cursed Cosell as he left the stadium with his elegant lady, Emmy, on his arm. He needed five bodyguards. In Denver, they're paying to throw bricks at Cosell's image on the screen, and somewhere in the East a man has received national publicity for a petition demanding the ABC dump Cosell.
You read what Joe Garagiola said. He said Cosell knew nothing about baseball.Miss Lillian, the President's mother, was quoted saying she didn't want Howard to die, she just wished they'd take him off the air. You read those things. Headlines.
But you didn't read the rest. Garagiola and his wife called the Cosells and, in tears, denied saying any such things. And Miss Lillian, at a party, told Cosell she'd never mentioned his name to anyone, much less a reporter, and, anyway, she liked Howard. Then she kissed him on the cheek. Those stories, if reported, went unnoticed here.
People are saying terrible things about Howard Cosell and they ought to shut up. It once was innocent fun to pick on Cosell, whose polysyllabic pomposity made him an irresistible target, but enough's enough. People are throwing pliers at his head and that is sick and it is not fun. To pick on Cosell now is spawn idiocy. It is time for a cease-fire.
When you try to figure out why football fans snarl dirty names at Cosell and his wife, when you look for a reason a TV broadcaster is so publicly humilated that the President's mother kisses him in compassion, you must, sorry to say, look at what sportswriters have done to the man.
A lot of sportswriters don't like Cosell. They don't like him because he works on television and is famous, brilliant, arrogant, pushy and wealthy. They'll say they don't like Cosell because he knows nothing about sports (they know it all, of course) and they'll cite, chapter and verse, mistakes he has made (they have made none, of course). They say he preaches journalism but practices hucksterism. They say that, and there's something to it, but in the end they don't like Howard Cosell for one reason: he is the preeminent symbol of sports on the boob tube.
The boob tube. How many times have those words been typed by these fingers? Too many. A gratuitous insult, for which these fingers should apologize. For all its flaws, which differ from newspaper flaws only in quality and not quantity, television is a powerful force for good in sports. It can achieve immediacy and intimacy forever out of reach of print journalists. Some writers thank TV for that, because what viewers live through one day, they want to read about the next. Other writers, lazier, cry.
They cry about cameras in the locker room and lights and microphones and they cry because TV is given preferential treatment. They look for ways to knock television, and the easiest is to take a shot at Howard Cosell.
They have certain fair grounds. Cosell often blabbers on and obscures the event he's hired to illuminate. He can be an annoyance, too, in the very way he says things. He speaks loudly with authority in a tone approaching condescension, as if he alone is able to deliver knowledge.
Like presidents and garbage collectors, however, sportswriters are not always fair, and because Howard Cosell works for the hated boob-tube videots and because Cosell, returning like for like, says sportswriters are bought-and-paid-for bums, because of all that, some attack Cosell for no good reason.
One example: Dick Young of The New York Daily News has spined maliciously at Cosell for years, but he broke new grounds of pettiness during the World Series when he wrote that it would be nice if a foul ball struck Cosell in the throat so he wouldn't be able to talk. It was in New York, where cement-heads have the Daily News read to them, that a pair of pliers flew into the ABC booth.
Cosell has done nothing to deserve this. Of the handful of national sportscasters capable of an intelligent interview on a varity of subjects. Cosell is the man you want to ask the hard questions. His job now requires as much show-biz as journalism, but he handles the schizophrenic demands smoothly. And anyone who cares about justice will remember how Cosell, a New York Jew, defended for 3 1/2 years the right of a Black Muslim to work for a living while his draft-refusal case was in the courts.
Ali never forgot it, and the resulting relationship helped make Cosell a national name. Monday Night Football secured his fame. Or, perhaps, Cosell secured fame for football on Monday nights. You may argue either way. Just make this note: Away for a year at NBC, Don Meredith was forgotten; back at ABC, he's a hero.
And why? Because Howard Cosell willingly plays the pompous rat to Meredith's aw-shucks good guy. For that, Meredith ought to tell those Denver dodos what to do with their bricks.