An embarrassed CBS fired a contrite Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder Saturday after the sports commentator said in a much-criticized television interview that blacks were “bred” to be better athletes than whites.
Snyder, who outraged civil rights leaders with this and other remarks about blacks in sports, reiterated a “heart-felt apology” he made after the interview was televised Friday, but raised the possibility he may sue CBS for dropping him.
He said that CBS executives wanted him to resign, but he refused and was fired by Neal Pilson, president of CBS Sports, who called Snyder from Hawaii.
Snyder said in a statement read by a CBS spokesman that he has “referred this matter” to his lawyer, former Republican Sen. Paul Laxalt of Nevada, “who is looking into it. Accordingly, I will have no further comment at this time.”
However, speaking from his Washington hotel in a brief phone interview, Snyder, for 12 years a commentator on the “NFL Today” pregame show, seemed willing to answer questions. But he was prevented from doing so by CBS spokesman Doug Richardson.
Asked if he may sue CBS, Snyder, 70, vaguely replied, “We just want to be protected. We shouldn’t say anything . . . .” He was interrupted by Richardson, who had read Snyder’s statement to a reporter.
Asked why he made his controversial remarks Friday, Snyder again tried to respond, only to be interrupted again by Richardson, who was sharing the same phone. “He’s a good guy--he wants to talk and he shouldn’t,” Richardson said.
“I’ll talk to you later, OK?” Snyder told the reporter. CBS, in a separate statement Saturday, said CBS Sports had “ended its relationship” with Snyder following his remarks. It said the remarks in no way “reflect the views of CBS Sports.”
Snyder, known for his predictions, was in Washington with “NFL Today” colleagues Brent Musburger and Irv Cross for today’s National Football Conference championship game between the Washington Redskins and the Minnesota Vikings.
He has been dropped from today’s telecast.
Snyder’s one-year contract, reportedly worth about $750,000, was due to expire soon.
Snyder made his comments in a lunchtime interview Friday at Duke Zeibert’s, a Washington restaurant.
His interviewer was Ed Hotaling, a black producer-reporter for NBC-owned WRC-TV. Hotaling said Saturday he had just come from covering a memorial to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., where a tape of King’s famous “I have a dream” speech was played.
Hotaling said he’d been doing interviews with various people in the restaurant, asking what they thought the next step in civil rights progress for blacks should be. He put the question to Snyder.
“It was all on the occasion of Martin Luther King’s birthday,” Hotaling said. “So I thought it was an appropriate, forward-looking question, and got a backward-looking answer.”
In the interview, Snyder, whose remarks were termed “reprehensible” by CBS, said that the only sports realm in which whites now dominate is coaching, and if blacks “take coaching, as I think everyone wants them to, there is not going to be anything left for the white people.”
Snyder, who during his remarks emphasized he was not meaning to be “derogatory,” said the only thing now that “whites control are the coaching jobs--the black talent is beautiful, it’s great, it’s out there. The only thing left for the whites is a couple of coaching jobs.”
He also said that black athletes perform better than white athletes for reasons that went back to slave times.
“The slave owner would breed his big black (man) to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid . . . . That’s where it all started,” he said.
While Hotaling said he was “stunned” and appalled by Snyder’s remarks, he thought it “outrageous they (CBS) fired him.” He said there should be far more reporting on civil rights in sports, and with Snyder participating in the coverage.
“I think it (the interview) was about the best possible Martin Luther King Day story you could have because it brings everything out in the open,” Hotaling said in a phone interview from Washington.
“And I think maybe one of the few people who might have agreed with me that Jimmy the Greek should not be fired would have been Martin Luther King.
“I think you have to think a little more broadly than firing a sports commentator for expressing stupid comments about civil rights. You should start covering the story and let him learn something.”
One way, he suggested, would be to put Snyder on today’s “NFL Today” broadcast and discuss his remarks, and civil rights, with black and white athletes.
“His views would be expressed a little more adequately, I think,” Hotaling said. “He wouldn’t come out to be such a bad guy. They’d have the thing resolved in a positive way instead of a negative way.”
Snyder was quoted by the Washington Post as saying: “I told (Pilson) I wanted to face everyone (on today’s program). He told me, ‘I can’t let you do that.’ ”
Hotaling was quoted by the Associated Press as saying: “I saw no liquor or wine on his table. He did not seem drunk or even tipsy to me. He was articulate in what he was saying. His point of view was made very articulately.”
Hotaling said that at one point in the interview, Snyder “turned to me and said, ‘I don’t want this on.’
“The reason we kept rolling was because he kept right on talking about the same issue. He is a professional sports commentator and he kept on talking even though he knew the lights were on. I think he knew he was on.”
Snyder, who was born Emetrios Snyodinos in Steubenville, Ohio, also made news in 1980, but on a lesser scale, when he and Musburger got into a brief fist fight at a midtown New York bar after the two argued over the amount of air time that Snyder was getting.
Musburger said Saturday he “was stunned” by Snyder’s remarks.
“I don’t know what he was thinking about,” Musburger said.
At Des Moines, Iowa, Democratic presidential hopeful Jesse Jackson, appearing at a conference marking Martin Luther King Day, said that Snyder’s “obviously regrettable and racially offensive” comments were less important than the lack of black managers and coaches in professional and college sports.
The Los Angeles branch of the NAACP sent a telegram to Pilson commending CBS for firing Snyder. Raymond Johnson, president of the L.A. group, said at a press conference Saturday: “The NAACP is outraged at the racist and insensitive remarks made by Jimmy Snyder.”
Jim (Mudcat) Grant, a former major league pitcher who is an NAACP chairperson, said: “Even though (Snyder’s) comments may seem comical to some, the seriousness of it all is that Americans must work harder to open the closed doors and provide equal opportunities for minorities of color.”
Harry Edwards, head of major league baseball’s minority hiring program, expressed outrage.
“Some of his explanations as to why blacks have emerged to a point of near dominance in sports make it clear the man is abysmally ignorant,” he said.