Howard Cosell said he's through with sleazy professional boxing, won't ever work another fight for ABC. "I've walked away from it," he said. "I'm past the point where I want to be part of it."
Good. Now if he will only walk away from pro football where he is a nuisance in the ABC booth, it would be counted as a splendid week for the known world. At least the American community.
Cosell's posturing as the saintly one who is horror-struck at what he sees in boxing is as ludicrous as his pretensions of boxing expertise.
And as apparent as his ignorance of what truly is happening on the football field when he is in the booth, belaboring the obvious or taking repeated thwacks at some poor pass receiver who had the temerity to drop one in Cosell's presence.
All of a sudden Cosell has wrapped himself in moral righteousness, declaring to The Washington Post's Dave Kindred he would do no more professional boxing for ABC. This, after the death of the Korean lightweight Duk Koo Kim, and the savage beating of Randall Cobb by Larry Holmes.
It prompts the question, what took Cosell so long to determine that his conscience was burdened by the seamy side of boxing? He's been a part of it for 20 years or so, in those electronic earmuffs at ringside, and in that role has presided over scores of brutal mismatches, and had at least a dim awareness that dozens of fighters were being killed in the ring long before poor Duk Koo Kim.
Oh, he has told Congress in flights of oratory at repeated hearings that something should be done. There is no record that good citizen Cosell has ever turned down an invitation to speak his piece at a congressional hearing. But always he proposed corrective measures he could suspect would never be realized.
Asking Congress to set up a federal commission to supervise boxing was the equivalent of asking Congress to open each new can of worms or to supervise mud wrestling, and Cosell knew that. Especially at times when, with the world on fire, the nation's statesmen had more compelling interests.
But his invitations to appear upon Capitol Hill imputed to Cosell that he was an authority. That was good. It allowed him to strike attitudes, to pose as the great humanitarian offended by what he saw in boxing, and to testify as the voice of good conscience, willing to hold up to the revealing light of its critics -- of which he was the foremost -- the ugly business of which he was a part. Now he was wearing his righteousness on his sleeve. For Howard, it was very fulfilling.
Boxing isn't a pretty sport -- the romance of it has always been exaggerated. And it would be all right here if the whole dirty business was phased out quickly, like tomorrow. This desire is not premised on the concommitant fact that the country would be rid of much of Cosell.
The two sides of Cosell are often evident. Three days before he was calling for the abolition of the sleazy game of boxing, unless it was given unto federal rule, Cosell appeared positively stricken that boxing might indeed be done away with.
This was when, at ringside at the Holmes-Cobb mismatch, he implored that the thing be stopped in midfight. "Doesn't he know," he was quoted as saying of the referee, "that he is constructing an advertisement for the abolition of boxing?" Will the real Howard Cosell sit down?
Cosell told Dave Kindred that among those to blame for boxing's sickness "is the vast majority of the print media members who are apologists for boxing." Howard has been beating that dead horse for decades, as a defensive ploy, without bothering to ask whose network has a vested interest in the ugly business, and which commentator shills consistently for all those good and bad fights, and who is it that always fawns on new champions to get them to appear on his show.
For the record, sportswriters were loudly calling Holmes-Cobb a sorry arrangement long before the fight. If Cosell and ABC were ever heard to say, while advertising the number on the dial, and the time and date, that they had just booked an unconscionable mismatch, their message was a faint one.
It may be said that Cosell owes most of his fame to Muhammad Ali, whose coattails he rode to his own prominence. Together, they were indeed a good team, with Ali's willingness to josh. A second element in Cosell's rise has been his own abrasive interview style, with his favorite "Let's-be-candid" approach thinly masking his go-for-the-jugular thrust.
And among Cosell's charming traits are his concern for old friends like Ali -- "I have a deep feeling for the men who fight . . . the other day Ken Norton walked into my office. My God, he's as thick-tongued as Ali." Some would say it was hardly necessary for Cosell to bring up (old friend) Ali's unfortunate speech condition, or to go public so insensitively with Ken Norton's boxing-induced state of health, true or otherwise.
It may be observed that when Cosell said he truly wanted no more to do with the dirty business of boxing, he did sound quite contrite and even believable -- except to those familiar with his prose, and cons.