Howard Cosell’s Controversial Book Destroyed His Reputation Before He Died

For years, the sounds of Howard Cosell analyzing the latest in sports — both on and off the field — filled many a household in the United States.

A longtime ABC Sports commentator best known for his boxing and Monday Night Football work, Cosell lent his voice to some of the most iconic moments in sports history.

Cosell’s biggest problem was he couldn’t stop getting in his own way, which is why his autobiography ruined his reputation.

Howard Cosell was an iconic and trendsetting sportscaster

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Howard Cosell worked at ABC Sports from 1953 all the way until 1985.

For reference, Cosell started at ABC when Mickey Mantle was in his third season with the Yankees, the American Football League hadn’t started yet, and not every Major League Baseball team had integrated yet.

Cosell called everything from little league games to Muhammad Ali’s boxing matches. Cosell was a devout supporter of Ali’s activism and backed the legendary boxer when Ali refused to fight in the Vietnam War.

Among Cosell’s biggest moments are the “Down goes Fraizer!” call during Joe Frazier’s fight against George Foreman in 1973 and his famous Monday Night Football announcement that John Lennon of the Beatles had died in New York.

Cosell earned induction into the Television Sports Hall of Fame in 1994.

Cosell had his fair share of controversies

Howard Cosell was an iconic and trendsetting sportscaster. Cosell's controversial book destroyed his reputation, though.
Howard Cosell was an iconic and trendsetting sportscaster. Cosell’s controversial book destroyed his reputation, though. | Getty Images

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Howard Cosell often found himself involved in various feuds and controversies.

Legendary New York sports columnist Dick Young often called Cosell a “fraud.” Cosell had a habit of speaking over his fellow announcers, whether it was during Monday Night Football or the World Series.

Cosell famously reportedly called Redskins receiver Alvin Garett, who is black, a “little monkey” during a Monday night game in 1983. The Washington Post wrote they received roughly 20 calls that night about the term, which the callers thought was a racial slur.

Cosell denied using that term and responded, “no man respects Alvin Garett more than I do.”

Known for his boxing calls, Cosell denounced the sport in 1982 when he felt boxing became too brutal. Duk Doo Kim, a South Korean boxer, had died after a fight two weeks earlier.

Howard Cosell’s autobiography destroyed his reputation

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Howard Cosell’s autobiography,  I Never Played the Game, released in September 1985 and drew instant controversy.

Cosell criticized other ABC Sports commentators. He wrote that Frank Gifford and Don Meredith, his longtime partners on Monday Night Football, didn’t belong in the booth.

“You don’t need three people in the damn booth. It’s sometimes confusing and often cluttering. It’s restrictive. … If [ABC Sports president Roone Alrledge] had paired one of the ex-jocks with me — preferably Gifford — we’d have scaled new heights of popularity.”

Cosell had quit the Monday Night Football booth before the 1984 season.

Of MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Cosell wrote “the man who has never lived who could outdrink Kuhn. His right leg is utterly hollow.”

ABC removed Cosell from that year’s World Series. He wrote another book, What’s Wrong with Sports, and appeared on TV shows but the damage was done.

A major player in football’s growth, Cosell notably remains out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Howard Cosell died of a cardiac embolism in April 1995, nearly a full decade after he released the controversial book.