The ABC sports "team," as it chummily calls itself, has invaded the bookstores—with decidedly mixed results. The new authors are Howard Cosell and Jim McKay, and the best way to summarize their literary labors is to say that the latter's book is an antidote to the former's.
In the 390 interminable pages of Cosell (Playboy Press, $8.95), the Monday night mouth tells everything you never wanted to know about Howard Cosell and were sensible enough not to ask. In the guise of autobiography, the book does little more than massage the author's elephantine ego. Bluster and bathos are Cosell's stock-in-trade, and there is enough of both here to weary even his most ardent admirer. He tells how he asks fearless questions, how he stands up for truth and justice, how he is a friend to those in need. He boasts about his pals in celebrityland—the book is a classic of name-dropping—and he blubbers over sporting sob stories.
Much of Cosell's notoriety rests on his penchant for sesquipedalian oratory. Transferred to the printed page, its grammatical deficiencies become embarrassingly evident. He may not quite be television's answer to Mrs. Malaprop, but he gives the old girl a run for her money with clumsy usage of such pomposities as "probative" and "eventuate." His prose, like his television commentary, butchers the English language, a delicate instrument that deserves better.
By comparison, Jim McKay is a model of clarity. My Wide World (Macmillan, $6.95) offers a chatty, once-over-lightly look at the workings of Wide World of Sports and the ABC coverage of the 1972 Summer Olympics. The book is in the form of a journal, with flashbacks to the author's early career and the primitive days of TV sports.
McKay has had something of a reputation as a cheerleading sportscaster, but he shook that rap in Munich with his dignified reporting of the Arab attack on the Israeli team quarters. He describes that sad occasion in full, and also provides a clue as to why he was able to cover it well. "The reporter's job," he writes, "is to tell as clearly and accurately as he can the facts of the situation and, in the case of television, to explain the meaning of the visual image on the screen." That is, the reporter should be accurate, interpretive and reasonably unobtrusive. Are you listening, Howard?
In both books a leading backstage figure is Roone Arledge, the by-now legendary president of ABC sports. If he ever cared to, that gentleman could probably write the definitive book on TV and sports—and thereby call into question a lot of prejudices about reportorial standards and public taste.