A look back at Jimmy the Greek's racist comment, 21 years later
In January of 1988, Jimmy the Greek made the following racist comment to an NBC affiliate WRC-TV and was subsequently fired by his CBS employers:
The black is a better athlete to begin with because he's been bred to be that way — because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back, and they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs. This goes back all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trading, the owner — the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid.
I was only eight years old when he made the comment, but even at my young age, I was able to understand that what he said was pretty ridiculous and inappropriate. There's no doubt that Jimmy the Greek made a blatantly offensive and racist comment about African-Americans. But was Jimmy the Greek actually a racist? Not according to former NFL Today producer George Veras, who discussed Jimmy the Greek on WFAN with another former NFL Today contributor, Mike Francesa, a close friend and mentee of Jimmy the Greek.
Francesa: As you know, he had the white and blue Cadillac, and he had a black driver named Mike, Mike from Chapel Hill. He and Mike were inseparable. And how many nights in Saratoga, I looked over, and they were on the couch together, with their heads bumped together asleep watching a cowboy movie.
And that's the man they told me was a racist. He built Mike's whole career, he gave him his business in North Carolina. Mike loved him like a brother. And that was the man they told everyone said was a racist.
They never even knew who Mike was. And that's what always bothered me because as I said, you know this, Jimmy was an equal opportunity hater. He could get mad at anybody. He didn't care what color you were, or what religion you were, he could yell at anybody.
Veras: That's a great line, but you know Irv Croft said in the documentary flat out that Jimmy was not a racist. And another piece of information which I didn't know, through Irv, that Jimmy had been funding scholarships, for a big number, probably in the 20s, of underprivileged mostly minority athletes in college for the last 10 years of his career.
Legendary Brent Musburger, former host of NFL Today (1976-1990), was on Bill Simmons' 30 for 30 podcast discussing Jimmy the Greek's legacy and his controversial comment. An excerpt from the podcast:
Simmons: So you don't think those comments, in your opinion, reflected the person that he was.
Musburger: Oh definitely did not. Under no circumstances. I will tell you this, hanging around the Greek, as much as I did, he was an old school guy, came from a different generation. But I never ever felt that he was in any way a racist, not in the least.
You know, he wandered into an area where he probably shouldn't have been.
Simmons: Yup, maybe he had a few drinks in him.
Musburger: You know the story was, I think Jimmy told me this, let me stop right there. He swears to this day, and so were some people that were with him, that he wasn't drinking.
Bill, because my reaction was the same as yours, immediately I thought he had a few cocktails but he swore to me that he wasn't. Greek wasn't a lunch drinker.
But I think it was the Greek, if it wasn't the Greek, it was somebody else who told me, that Al Davis had started discussing with him the evolution of athletes from Civil War time and it sort of stuck in his memory bank. If you go back, he was really trying to be complimentary and he just didn't know how.
Simmons: Yeah, it sounded like he was repeating a theory that he had heard from somebody else and did it so clumsily that it just made you think that it was his.
Musburger: Exactly and when you first heard it, you said oh my goodness. But then if you stop and read it and think about it. If the Greek had been a college professor, he probably would have pulled if off in a discussion basis.