Howard was sitting in his office at the American Broadcasting Company. And Howard was talking. Howard has been known to talk. He may well be the most famous talker in America. He is now so well known, in fact, that even CBS' The Match Game uses him in questions. Like: "There is a new disease going around called the Howard Cosell Flu. For one day your—swells up." And the panelists dutifully fill in the—with a word like "mouth," "tongue" or "head." As Howard talks, the phone keeps ringing. It's Dave DeBusschere. It's Bill Talbert. It's just about anybody. From anywhere. In a pause between calls, Howard picks up a book which reveals something about Howard that might surprise his many detractors. It is C.D.B. Bryan's Friendly Fire, an account of the accidental death of a soldier in Vietnam and its effect on his parents in Iowa. "It's a compelling book," Howard says. "It's important." Then Howard says something that is also compelling: "Teaching at Yale was the single most rewarding thing I have done in my life in sports journalism."
Yes, he did. Howard Cosell—schooled at Brooklyn's P.S. 9, NYU and OCS, he of the magisterial tone and the ostentatious vocabulary—did teach at Yale. For 13 weeks last winter and spring as a Guest Fellow at Silliman College he conducted a two-credit, once-a-week seminar called "Big Time Sports in Contemporary America." When the course was first announced, the college was immediately swamped with hundreds of applications. Cosell managed to winnow them down to 22 students with an impressively wide range of interests. Among them were history majors, psychology and American studies majors, young people of both sexes whose basic interests were in mathematics, economics, arts and letters, architecture, music—even Russian and East European studies. When Cosell dismissed his final class the students gave him a 15-minute standing ovation. "I can't tell you how moved I was," he says. "I found out something about the young people of this country. I had doubts, but they are tremendous people who care. I fell in love with them. Some are near-geniuses. I will never, never forget teaching them. Yes, I want to do it again."
It is highly doubtful that Cosell will abandon all to begin a new career as an instructor on Sunrise Semester or that he will forego lucrative network announcing to instruct the nation's youth on sports and broadcasting. Yet what he did for virtually no remuneration (less than $600) was eminently worthwhile. If nothing else, he set a standard which other broadcasters might well follow when trying to explain their complicated and controversial industry to the public. Elias Clark, the Master of Silliman, wrote Cosell after the conclusion of the seminar: "It was said that your busy schedule would not allow you to take the seminar seriously and that it would necessarily be a series of anecdotes from the top of your head. Those slings and arrows couldn't have been farther from the truth.... You did everything you promised and much, much more."
Cosell first became interested in teaching some years ago, but he was too busy to actually do so. When Yale approached him last year he proposed a course that called for weekly reading assignments, including such court proceedings as Flood vs. Kuhn and Gardella vs. Chandler, oral reports, exams and a term paper.
June 20, 1976
Moreover, he brought to Yale people involved in sports and broadcasting at the very highest levels: Bob Wood, the former president of CBS made the trip up to New Haven; so did ABC's Roone Arledge; Bill Bradley of the New York Knicks; Yankee General Manager Gabe Paul; and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle.
"I enjoyed going," says Rozelle. "The students asked me just about everything and they didn't beat around the bush. They asked me about the violence and 'slavery' in the National Football League. When the course ended, Cosell gave a party for the students at '21' in New York. I was sorry that one of them, Gary Fencik, couldn't be there. He was drafted on the 10th round as a defensive back by the Miami Dolphins and he was away at their rookie camp. I had bought a present for him and had it inscribed, 'Welcome to the violent slavery of the National Football League.' "
"Some of the term papers were over 30 pages and I read many of them to my wife," Cosell was saying the other day. "The subjects ranged from 'Do Sociological Realities Confirm Jean Paul Sartre's Views of Sport?' to the Louisiana Superdome and municipal funding of stadia. I gave out four A's. I came away with the feeling that those kids truly worked hard and cared deeply about what they were doing. Yes, I want to teach again when I get the time. It was a very uplifting experience."
And, yes, Yale wants him back, though in his letter to Cosell, Clark injected a cautionary note: "I have learned through long experience that the greater the success of the first go-around the more likely it is that the instructor will feel a serious letdown if he puts himself through a repeat performance right away. I selfishly hope that you will hold off on teaching next year and come back to us again in the spring of 1978."
Cosell would like to return to Yale in '78, but may teach at Princeton before that. And Howard on Sunrise Semester at 6:30 a.m. is not all that preposterous. The millions who love to hate Howard could begin their days with primal screams.