Biography Of Howard Cosell

Biography of Howard Cosell, one of the most loved and despised broadcasters of all time.

Born Howard Cohen in 1918, Howard Cosell carved a niche in sports journalism that few other have been able to equal. His often rambling commentary and bombastic opinions endeared him to some and pushed others away. For his part, Cosell did not care, as long as you continued to listen to him.

Cosell's father had come to America with the surname of Kasell. The Ellis Island immigration officials changed it to Cohen. Howard changed it to Cosell to honor his father. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University, he went on to Law School at New York University, where he was an editor of the law review. He maintained a lucrative law practice in New York for eight years. Then, in 1954, Cosell began to try his hand at sports journalism, taking a small job interviewing young baseball players. He made a name for himself as he walked around with a huge tape recorder on his back, getting his interviews in an often confrontational fashion.

Eventually, Cosell was hired by ABC Sports. He first made a national name for himself by broadcasting boxing matches. He became an ardent supporter of a young light-heavyweight named Cassius Clay. When Clay later changed his name to Muhammad Ali and converted to Islam, Cosell, who was Jewish, supported the decision. Likewise, Cosell refused to criticise Ali's objections to the Vietnam war.

The two of them were a study in contrasts, but their interviews made for great television entertainment. Cosell's long-winded, nasally, questions constrasted sharply with Ali's quick, rambunctious answers. They joked and prodded each other constantly, always maintaining a respect for each other. Cosell would broadcast many of Ali's fights and would conduct numerous interviews with him over the course of both of their careers.

In 1970, ABC executive Roone Arledge hired Cosell to be a commentator for a revolutionary program called Monday Night Football. Never before had football been broadcast in prime time, and the show was an immediate hit. Cosell, accompanied most of the time by ex-football players Frank Gifford and Don Meredith, made the program his own stage in many ways.

He scored interviews with celebrities and politicians on the air. He offered laborious explanations about strategy, players, and teams. No one was immune from his criticism. The weekly diatribes Cosell offered on the air made him a household name in a very short period of time. His long, seemingly educated oral essays contrasted well with Meredith's down-home, folksy observations, leaving Gifford to stare in bemused humor and keep an eye on the game. Throughout the early 1970s, the Monday Night Football broadcast, due in large part to Cosell's presence, was often bigger than the game itself.

Cosell was very attuned to his image and knew well what the public was saying about him. In an interview, he once commented "I have been called obnoxious, bombastic, sarcastic, confrontational, and a know-it-all," he said. "Of course, I am all of these things." A mid-1970s poll stated that Cosell was the most hated sportscaster in America. The same poll said he was the most popular one.

Eventually, Cosell grew weary of both the boxing game and of football. After witnessing a brutal fight between Larry Holmes and Randall Cobb in 1982, Cosell denounced the sport as barbaric and never broadcast it again. He left Monday Night Football in 1983, calling the game "a bore." For a few years, he hosted a program called "Sportsbeat" on ABC. Though it was critically acclaimed, ABC cancelled it after its short run. Cosell later confined his viewpoints to radio, broadcasting a short daily commentary on the world of sports each day.

After retreating into retirement, Cosell eventually passed away in 1994. He left behind a legacy that few have ever tried to match. Whether people like the legacy or hate it, it is impossible to ignore the mark he left on sports journalism. And those who knew Cosell well have often surmised that that is just the way he would have wanted it.

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