Bryant Gumbel, David Stern and the television ratings game

Eric McErlain Sports Blogger
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By now, you’ve probably seen or heard Bryant Gumbel’s racially charged on-air rant about NBA Commissioner David Stern and the way he’s handling negotiations during the NBA lockout. But while plenty of folks are expressing shock and indignation over Gumbel’s comments, I’m sure Gumbel is just kicking back and enjoying all the fuss.

After all, what’s not to love when a plan comes together?

While many folks may still see Gumbel as a newsman, he knows full well that he’s an entertainer, and an entertainer that lives and dies by ratings. When you look at things that way, it’s easy to see how Gumbel has plenty in common with shock radio jocks like Howard Stern. Like it or not, outrageous talk attracts attention, and there’s little doubt that Gumbel’s latest tirade will help drive ratings for the show he hosts, HBO’s “Real Sports.”

We should also recall that this isn’t the first time Gumbel has gone to the well on race in order to shock and offend and boost the ratings for his HBO show. During the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin Gumbel said, “So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention.”

Later that same year, Gumbel took aim at the late Gene Upshaw, then head of the National Football League Players Association, for what Gumbel saw as a far too cozy relationship with outgoing NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue:

“Before he cleans out his office, have Paul Tagliabue show you where he keeps Gene Upshaw’s leash. By making the docile head of the players union his personal pet, your predecessor has kept the peace without giving players the kind of guarantees other pros take for granted. Try to make sure no one competent ever replaces Upshaw on your watch.”

So complain about Gumbel if you must. But if you really want to punish him for his words, just shut off his program or send a complaint to HBO. My guess is that they’re enjoying this latest kerfuffle as much as he is.

Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.