Howard Cosell’s Career-Ending Comment: The Remark That Got Him Fired Immediately

Howard Cosell’s Career-Ending Comment: The Remark That Got Him Fired Immediately

Monday Night Football has long been a beloved institution in American sports, a prime-time showcase where fans gather to watch their favorite teams compete under the bright lights. Commentators play a crucial role in bringing the game to life, providing play-by-play analysis and adding color with their unique perspectives. Among the most iconic voices in the booth was Howard Cosell, known for his distinctive style and unflinching commentary. Yet, even legends can falter, and on one fateful night, Cosell’s choice of words during a live broadcast would lead to a scandal that forever altered his career.

On September 5, 1983, the world of sports broadcasting was shaken by a comment made by Howard Cosell during a Monday Night Football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins. This game, remembered not for its plays but for a few words uttered by Cosell, marked a turning point in his illustrious career.

The Comment

During the game, Washington Redskins wide receiver Alvin Garrett narrowly escaped a tackle and made a first down against the Cowboys. In his excitement, Cosell exclaimed, “That little monkey gets loose, doesn’t he?” This comment, comparing an African-American player to a monkey, did not sit well with viewers. Almost immediately, ABC received a flood of calls from outraged viewers, and the controversy began to swell.

Public Reaction

The backlash was swift and intense. Prominent black leaders, including Reverend Joseph Lowry, demanded a public apology from Cosell. The term “monkey” used to describe an African-American, no matter the intent, had deep racial connotations and was viewed as demeaning and offensive.

Initially, Cosell denied making the comment, but faced with mounting pressure and undeniable video evidence, he admitted to it. He explained that he never intended to make a racist remark. According to Cosell, he used the term to describe Garrett’s small size and agility. He also pointed out that he had previously called a white player, Mike Adamle, a “little monkey” for similar reasons. Despite this defense, the damage was done.

Cosell’s History of Supporting Black Athletes

Ironically, Howard Cosell had a long history of championing black athletes. He had supported the use of Black Power salutes by sprinters John Carlos and Tommy Smith during the Olympic Games. Moreover, he had a strong friendship with Muhammad Ali, often standing up for the boxer during his most controversial periods. Even Alvin Garrett himself stated that he did not feel the comment was meant to be demeaning, sharing that he had affectionately used the term “little monkey” to describe his own small grandchild.

The Fallout

Despite these explanations and defenses, the incident took a toll on Cosell. The constant scrutiny and criticism wore him down. He referred to Monday Night Football as a “stagnant bore” and decided to resign from the show by the end of the season. His departure marked the end of an era in sports broadcasting, as Cosell had been a defining voice of the program since its inception.

Life After the Incident

After leaving Monday Night Football, Cosell remained with ABC and launched a new program in 1984 called “SportsBeat.” This 30-minute show quickly became his favorite, earning several Emmy Awards. However, the respite was short-lived. In 1985, Cosell published a memoir titled “I Never Played the Game,” which contained unflattering portraits of several former ABC colleagues. This led to the cancellation of “SportsBeat.”

Following this second major controversy, Cosell returned to radio, where he continued to work until his retirement in 1992. His departure from the public eye came six months after surgery to remove a cancerous chest tumor.

Legacy and Reflection

Howard Cosell’s career is a study in contrasts. He was a pioneering sports broadcaster who brought a distinctive style and candor to his work. He broke new ground in his support for black athletes and was unafraid to tackle controversial issues. Yet, his career was marred by a comment that, despite his intentions, highlighted the racial sensitivities and complexities of the time.

Cosell’s incident serves as a poignant reminder of the power of words and the lasting impact they can have. His defense, grounded in his previous use of the term and his history of supporting black athletes, could not fully mitigate the offense taken by many. The incident underscores the importance of understanding the historical and social weight of certain terms and expressions.

In retrospect, Cosell’s career is remembered both for his groundbreaking contributions to sports broadcasting and for the controversies that marked its end. His story is a testament to the complexity of public figures who, despite their achievements, are also susceptible to the pitfalls of their own words and actions.

In conclusion, Howard Cosell’s journey through the world of sports broadcasting was filled with highs and lows. His comment during the 1983 game between the Cowboys and the Redskins brought a sudden and controversial end to his role on Monday Night Football. Yet, his influence on sports media remains significant. Cosell’s legacy is a complex one, reflecting both his substantial contributions to the field and the enduring impact of his controversial remark.

Even after the incident, his style and dedication to honest, unfiltered commentary set a standard in sports journalism. He was a pioneer who brought attention to important social issues through sports, and his ability to humanize athletes, irrespective of race, showcased his unique approach to sports broadcasting. Despite his misstep, Cosell’s career is a testament to the powerful role of media in shaping public perception and the lasting effects of words spoken on such a prominent platform.

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