Pasadena, Calif. — Twenty years after Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel first premiered on HBO, Gumbel still sees the necessity of the monthly newsmagazine in sports journalism. “There’s so little of it practiced,” he said Thursday at the TCA Winter Press Tour. “So much of what passes for sports coverage in my opinion is sycophantic.”
Gumbel added that journalists don’t tend to ask people in sports the same questions they do of people in government, for instance. “We have some abuses that go unreported and unaddressed,” he said.
First and foremost, in Gumbel’s mind, is college athletics. “We’re way behind on compensation of NCAA athletes,” he said, calling the treatment of college athletes “abusive,” “shameful” and “embarrassing.” He noted that in Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship game, Ohio State (as well as Oregon) will be playing its 15th game of the season, yet the players receive no compensation.
Gumbel referred to NCAA football as “a free farm team,” while juxtaposing the high salaries of coaches. When a player earns an award but the coach is the one who collects a bonus, Gumbel said, “something is wrong there.”
Other highlights from the panel included:
— Gumbel was asked if it seems like 20 years of doing Real Sports. “You get to a certain age, you feel like you’re eating breakfast every 10 minutes,” he said. In a more serious note, he explained how Real Sports uses sports to tell its stories. “We’re a sports show in the way Rocky was about a boxer,” he said. “Sports is the vehicle to explore what we think are some pretty serious issues that are underplayed in the mainstream media.”
— Two of the worst words in the English language, according to Gumbel, are “broadcast partner.” He went on to say that “it’s ludicrous for people to think when you watch say an NBA game they’re going to be treated with total objectivity. It’s not going to happen, and that’s unfortunate, because I think the viewer is entitled to more.”
— With the exclusion of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Gumbel does not see the Hall’s relevancy. “In a macro sense, I personally believe if you are professional athlete you should be allowed to do whatever you want to maximize earning potential,” he said.