The Comment That Nearly Ended Howard Cosell's Career

By | September 26, 2022

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Howard Cosell and ABC sportscasters. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

Sports broadcaster Howard Cosell was the voice of football, boxing, and more from the mid '50s through the end of the '80s. Many of his calls have become legendary in sports history, but Cosell had a reputation for being arrogant and rude, to the point that sports fans sarcastically called him "Humble Howard." Still, nothing could have prepared audiences for the comment that nearly ended Humble Howard's career.

The Incident

On September 5, 1983, CosellĀ was broadcasting the Monday Night Football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins. After wide receiver Alvin Garrett broke tackles for an impressive gain, Cosell commented, "That little monkey gets loose, doesn't he?" AsĀ Garrett is black, the comment was considered racist, and the phones at ABC rang off the hook as viewers called in to complain.

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Publicity photo of Howard Cosell from Monday Night Football. (ABC Television/Wikimedia Commons)

The Aftermath

At first, Cosell denied even making the comment, but it's pretty hard to deny a recorded broadcast, so Cosell switched tacks, explaining that he was only noting Garrett's small size, speed, and agility. It wasn't necessarily B.S.: Cosell had previously referred to a small, fast, white player as a "little monkey."

It was also pointed out, quite correctly, that Cosell had a long history of championing black athletes, from Muhammad Ali (who defended Cosell) to Olympic sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith, who famously raised their fists in a "Black Power" salute on the podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Even Garrett spoke out in support of Cosell, insisting he "didn't feel that it was a demeaning statement."