Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Bryant Gumbel's "Real Sports" Marks 20 Years

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Bryant Gumbel's "Real Sports" Marks 20 Years

Article excerpt

NEW YORK | Bryant Gumbel's "Real Sports" focuses on the NCAA this week during March Madness. As is typical of the HBO newsmagazine that marks its 20th year on air, the focus won't be on jump shots or bracket busting.

Scheduled reports will discuss the lack of long-term medical care for athletes injured during college sports, and the pressure placed on students to perform or lose their scholarships. A roundtable discussion to follow will feature Kirk Schulz, chairman of the NCAA board of governors.

"We wanted to do something that is not a sycophantic look at what is going on," Gumbel said Monday. "We wanted to take a critical look at the NCAA's relationship with its athletes and the extent to which it is functioning properly."

That's typical territory for "Real Sports." Gumbel was still a "Today" show anchor when the HBO program began in 1995, airing four times a year initially. It bumped up to six and now is once a month. "Real Sports" has taken a lead in coverage of concussions in sports and won awards for stories about racism at European soccer matches, baseball recruiting in the Dominican Republic and boys forced to be camel jockeys in the United Arab Emirates.

February's edition had a typical mix: a David Scott report on the dangers faced by Sherpas guiding inexperienced tourists up Mount Everest, a Soledad O'Brien story on injured athletes who shift from painkillers to heroin and a Jon Frankel profile of snowboard star Amy Purdy, a double amputee.

"The mandate is pretty much the same -- to tell good stories, to highlight social issues involving sports," Gumbel said. "But I think we've become better at doing it. Like anything else, you figure out how best to get to where you want to get. Our correspondents are far better."

Other broadcast outlets have followed the show's lead, like ESPN with its increased use of documentaries and Showtime's "60 Minutes Sports," said Andy Billings, sports media professor at the University of Alabama. Online sites like Deadspin or Grantland do strong investigations, but don't drive the sports media conversation the way "Real Sports" does, he said.

The January episode, with former Chicago Bears talking about the physical toll of playing in the NFL, was seen by 3. …

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