With Black History Month just around the corner, it’s appropriate to note that Washington radio sports talk pioneer Harold Bell soon may be back on the air regularly after a six-year absence.
He’ll need a break or two, but he’s way overdue.
Bell, whose hard-hitting “Inside Sports” program began in 1974, is working on a syndicated TV show that will feature top athletes and journalists. He hopes to have it up and running by spring.
Unlike the know-it-all hosts who populate most sports talk shows, Bell sets more store by honesty than bluster. “I’ve never pretended to know it all,” he said, but when he does know something he isn’t reluctant to, literally, air it out no matter how big or powerful the target. Of course, you can make important enemies doing that kind of thing probably the reason Bell has yet to become rich or famous despite his obvious talent.
“No, I’m not bitter,” he insisted. “Who would I be bitter at? There’s a lot of jealousy in my business, and I’ve never had a godfather.”
Bell, a one-time three-sport star at Spingarn High School, also deserves credit for devoting untold hours over the years toward working in the community. He is a former Roving Leader for the D.C. Recreation Department, and his Kids In Trouble Inc. benefits thousands of inner-city youngsters. One of his pet peeves involves fat-cat jocks who don’t bother to give anything back.
Despite his absence from the regular airwaves, Bell has lots of admirers in and out of sports. William Taaffe, a former TV columnist for Sports Illustrated, once wrote, “‘Inside Sports’ is a jewel of a program easily the most reflective and provocative sports show in Washington, D.C. … [It] rules the roost because of content, freshness and a crusading kind of honesty.”
Bell became and remains a friend of Muhammad Ali, who agreed to be interviewed in 1975 when Bell became the first black sportscaster to produce and be host of a program on WRC-TV. He also was Ali’s escort when the Greatest came to town to be honored as the D.C. Chamber of Commerce’s Athlete of the Year.
At the awards dinner, Ali introduced Bell and told then-Mayor Walter Washington, “Harold is my friend. If anything happens to him, you and I have a problem. Do you understand?”
Washington nodded and said, “Sure, champ.”
Using a favorite line, Ali snapped, “I guess you ain’t as dumb as you look.”
Giving Harold Bell his proper due, on and off the air, has never been dumb. Soon he might be in a position to reap some rewards, along with the area’s sports fans.
In all the furor over Steve Spurrier’s arrival, has anybody taken a moment to feel a little sorry for Ralph Friedgen?
After Maryland’s 56-23 shellacking by Spurrier’s Florida Gators in the Orange Bowl this month, Friedgen at least could console himself with the thought that he probably wouldn’t have to worry about Steve Superior again. And perhaps next season Friedgen’s Terrapins would begin to make a serious push toward replacing Marty Schottenheimer’s dull Washington Redskins as the area’s favorite football team.
Whoops, wrong number. With Spurrier bringing his exciting brand of football to town, the Redskins figure to attract more attention than at any time since Joe Gibbs left town.
Sorry, Ralph. But if anyone knows where to purchase a Spurrier doll and a set of pins, we’ll pass it along.
A death in Baltimore
Our friend Gordon Thomas passes along a note on the contents of a time capsule excavated at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium last week in preparation for this week’s demolition of the half-century old structure at 33rd and North Charles streets that housed the Orioles from 1954 to 1991 and the Colts from 1953 to 1983.
The capsule was set in place in the stadium’s cornerstone by Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro Jr. in September 1954. Fittingly, its unearthing was presided over by his son Thomas III, also a former mayor.
Contents included various baseball and football programs and yearbooks, other artifacts and 38 cents in nickels and pennies. The latter were almost as poignant as the historic stuff because 48 years ago that was almost enough to buy you a ticket in the bleachers.
For any fan who saw the likes of Brooks and Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore and Artie Donovan cavort there, Memorial Stadium’s demise must be painful. Camden Yards and PSINet Stadium are beautiful places, but it will be quite a while before they accumulate as much history.
New Georgia Tech football coach Chan Gailey, on taking over the job a day after his Miami Dolphins were beaten in the first round of the NFL playoffs: “That’s the quickest I’ve ever gotten over a loss. I felt almost guilty Monday morning cleaning out my office. Everybody was moping around, and I was packing up boxes.”