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A pompous twit tackles the NFL

- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2006

Bryant Gumbel wants to have it both ways as the host of HBO's "Real Sports" and the newly hired play-by-play broadcaster with the NFL Network.

Gumbel already is in conflict with the NFL after he recently closed his "Real Sports" show with a commentary that reduced Gene Upshaw to being the house pet of outgoing commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Gumbel implored incoming commissioner Roger Goodell to have 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 guarantees other pros take for granted. Try to make sure no one competent ever replaces Upshaw on your watch."

Understandably, Tagliabue took exception to Gumbel's position, and now Gumbel's job status with the NFL is in doubt.

The journalistic urge to defend Gumbel's right to say whatever pops into his mind is reflexive, however myopic the urge is in this instance.

Gumbel is, in effect, biting his new employer's hand, which is bad form, to say the least.

Not that Gumbel needs the job, which is a freedom that allows him to pretend to be brave.

He can say whatever he likes about the NFL and puff out his chest as a beacon of journalistic integrity. He no doubt would have considerably less integrity if he actually needed the work.

Gumbel's commentary misses on a number of levels.

If he so desperately feels the monetary pain of the players, then why is he planning to be part of their exploitation?

He bemoans the absence of guaranteed contracts in the NFL but has no problem accepting his share of the revenues the serfs generate.

Those who feel inclined to defend Gumbel would not be so tasteless themselves.

They would not dare go to another publication or media outlet and start taking swipes at their employer.

If they did, they probably would be soon subjected to a number of meetings. They probably would be told that since they have a serious issue with the company, perhaps they should look for employment elsewhere.

The NFL's incoming commissioner and owners undoubtedly are thinking the same thing about Gumbel.

He has an issue with how they shortchange the players, so perhaps it would be best if he went to a network that championed his world economic view.

To be honest, the players-as-oppressed-victims meme stopped working sometime in the disco era.

Here is another thing: No one ever has put a gun to the head of the players and said: Go work for these terrible oppressors.

Gumbel always has had a self-righteous, pompous air about him, as if he has discovered a higher plane of truth, as if he knows what no one else possibly could know because of his deep, powerful, penetrating, awe-inspiring, Mensa-quality intellect.

Why he has wasted that imposing intellect on the idiot box is hard to comprehend.

Then again, most of us cannot understand the work of a genius.

Gumbel must know there is no absence of commentary on the NFL. He must know that his tiny voice is but one amid the cacophony, hardly essential in aiding the cause of the First Amendment.

He ought to treat the NFL with the class and dignity he no doubt is demanding from the sports entity.

Instead, he is obligated to shout the cause of the poor union members on the field.

If you did not know better, you might think the players were factory workers, truck drivers, electricians and machine operators.

You also might forget that a number of owners questioned the nearly $1billion added to the players' kitty to make the last collective-bargain agreement.

And it was Upshaw who helped negotiate the additional bounty for the players.

If he is on Tagliabue's leash, it is one expensive leash.

All too many would be eager to be on the end of that diamond-studded leash.