Sportscaster Bryant Gumbel has led a spectacular career in journalism. As PBS notes, he has won four Emmy Awards, an Edward R. Murrow Award, and an Edward Weintal Prize, among many other accolades. His reporting of Vietnam ten years after the war ended earned him an George Foster Peabody Award, then decades later, his work on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" won him two more in 2012 and 2015. He is one of the longest serving co-hosts of NBC’s "Today," his 15 years surpassed only by Matt Lauer and Katie Couric. He has also hosted multiple shows on CBS.
Gumbel was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on September 29, 1948. The degree he earned from Bates College, in Lewiston, Maine, was in Russian history, and he also holds honorary doctorates from several higher learning institutions. His broadcast career began in 1972, when he started as the sportscaster for Los Angeles’ KNBC TV. From there, he went on to interview some of the world’s most successful and powerful people, reporting on hard-hitting topics across the globe. Let’s take a look at the life and career of Bryant Gumbel.
Bryant Gumbel’s sports reporting goes way beyond the game
Bryant Gumbel is not the kind of sportscaster who peppers in a few "boomshakalakas" during the highlight reels before calling it a day. His reporting — even, or rather, especially in sports — is so in-depth and insightful that the Peabody Awards said, "Bryant Gumbel’s long-running series could just as easily be called ‘Real life.’ Sports is its springboard, but from its inception it has been more concerned with culture, ethics and human striving than with winning streaks or batting averages."
The magazine-style "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" has taken award-winning deep dives into specific issues related to sports, such as a hazing ritual at Florida A&M that took the life of a young drum major in 2011, and the lives of gay professional athletes who had taken the bold step of coming out of the closet. The show’s Peabody-winning 2012 season looked into the detrimental effects of concussions on professional football players.
"Real Sports" won another Peabody in 2015 for its exposure of the devastation that the sport of trophy hunting takes on elephant populations in Africa, which led correspondent David Scott to investigate the even greater threat of poaching. As several universities, organizations, and awards programs have recognized over the years, Bryant Gumbel’s reporting never leaves a stone unturned.
People’s racist opinions don’t bother Bryant Gumbel
One of the characteristics that has served Gumbel well in his decades-long journalism career is his self-confidence. It’s something that he views as essential to his profession. "Anybody who sits in front of a camera has to have an ego," he said, according to the Baltimore Sun. But Gumbel’s critics tend to describe his self-confidence as arrogance, while white journalists get called things like "aggressive" and "assertive." Gumbel asked the reporter if his ego were any bigger than those of successful white broadcasters like Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel, and Dan Rather. "I would say no," he said. "Do I try to control my program any more than they try to control theirs?"
But he has little time for such obvious racial prejudice. "I rarely talk about it," Gumbel said. "People who are inclined to believe things like that without verification of any kind, why should I care about their opinions?"
Gumbel’s self-confidence has been a point of contention since early in his career. He had to answer cries of arrogance in 1988, when he was chosen to host the Olympics, held in Seoul, South Korea, that year. "If you’re going to be successful in network TV, you’ve got to be a take-charge individual, forthright, assertive," he told the Los Angeles Times. "In the minds of some Americans it’s still a shock to see a Black guy demonstrating those qualities. As a result, I’m perceived as more arrogant than Ted Koppel."
Bryant Gumbel officially hates the NRA
That L.A. Times piece quoted Gumbel from an interview he did with Playboy: "I’m a raucous guy who, for better or worse, has this reputation for being a brawler in terms of his personal dealings, who doesn’t mind screaming or telling it like it is. I’m about as subtle as a punch in the face."
And he wasn’t kidding. In 2015, he gave Rolling Stone a good example of telling it like it is when he openly expressed his negative opinion of the National Rifle Association (NRA). "There are few things I had more than the NRA. I mean truly," he said. "I think they’re pigs. I think they don’t care about human life. I think they are a curse upon the American landscape. So we go that on record."
But sometimes Gumbel’s strong opinions make their way onto the record by accident. As Salon reports, Gumbel was accidentally caught on camera in June 2000 giving his unfiltered opinion of an interviewee who defended the Boy Scouts’ policy of excluding gay men as leaders. "What a f****** idiot," he ended up saying on national television. But while he later admitted that he had been wrong to even accidentally drop an on-air F-bomb, he never backed down from the meat and potatoes of his statement. The conservative media watchdog site NewsBusters pointed out that Gumbel later "bragged" about being "correct" about his description of the homophobic interviewee to talk show hosts Regis Philbin and Kelly Rippa.
Prince showed Bryant Gumbel off on his last day at ‘Today’
One of the many feathers in Bryant Gumbel’s hat is that he conducted the first-ever live sit-down interview with the one, the only, the inimitable Prince. According to Ultimate Prince, the two had become friends off camera, particularly at New York Knicks basketball games. Gumbel was able to get the famously reclusive singer to open up on "Today" about difficult aspects of his life, such as his relationship with his wife and the death of his baby boy. At the end of the interview, Gumbel eased tensions by touching on a favorite subject of Prince’s: his clothes. Prince laughed as he answered that no, he did not own a blazer or pleated khakis. "Would you ever wear my shoes?" Gumbel asked. "Let me see," said Prince, who took one look at the broadcaster’s footwear and cried out, "Hell no!"
Little did Gumbel know, however, that Prince would go on to eat those words. On his final day as co-host of "Today," Prince surprised him with an unexpected cameo. But that wasn’t the only surprise. Prince came on set in costume: a businessman’s suit identical to the one Gumbel was wearing that day. Prince said it was his wife’s idea, and that she also said to impersonate him on air. "Take care, Bryant," the singer said, eliciting laughter from everyone on camera.
Gumbel still bros out with disgraced co-host Matt Lauer
In November 2017, the longest serving "Today" co-host, Matt Lauer, was fired from the job he’d held for 20 years after several women accused him of sexual misconduct. His co-anchors at the time, Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, told viewers the day the news broke that they were both "heartbroken" about what had happened, but they were among a minority of people who had sympathy for Lauer.
Neither has Bryant Gumbel turned his back on his friend. "He’s my best buddy," Gumbel told the New York Daily News in 2017. "I was the best man at his wedding. He was the best man at mine. I still love him!"
According to In Touch Weekly, the two bros were reportedly in "secret talks" plotting Lauer’s return to TV in 2019. "Matt and Bryant are still extremely close friends," said an unnamed source. "This just might be Matt’s chance to show that he’s turned over a new leaf!"
But more allegations against Lauer came later that year, according to Town & Country. Journalist Ronan Farrow published a damning book about Lauer and alleged misconduct with his former colleague Brooke Nevils. There has been no gossip about a Gumbel/Lauer collab since then.