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Through 53 Super Bowls, the networks have never had an African-American analyst in the booth

Greg Gumbel did play-by-play twice on CBS TV; Radio never featured a black play-by-play voice or analyst for the big game

 

Since the first Super Bowl in 1967, there have been 53 separate announcers by my count who have either done play-by-play or color on network television or network radio. It includes two newcomers who add their names to the esteemed list today, the celebrated Tony Romo on CBS Television and Kurt Warner who’ll work national radio.

Breaking it down, 33 are alive and 20 are deceased. The list includes 7 gentlemen who’ve worked both on radio and television, 23 who’ve been only on television and 23 who’ve only presided over the radio microphone. 

Of the 53, there’s been only one African-American, Greg Gumbel. When he was the lead play-by-play voice of CBS Television’s NFL coverage, Gumbel called the 2001 and 2004 Super Bowls. Jim Nantz followed in 2007 and will call his fifth today with partner Romo. The phlegmatic and poised Gumbel, 72, continues in his CBS play-by-play role but no longer is at the top of the depth chart.

There are three other septuagenarians calling NFL games on network television; Dick Stockton of Fox, 76, Al Michaels of NBC, 74 and Sam Rosen of Fox, 71.

It struck me as I constructed this list that there has never been an African American color analyst in the 53 year history of the Super Bowl, perennially television’s highest rated show. Not on any of the four networks that have televised the game; CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox and neither on the national radio broadcast.

The NFL is made up of roughly 70% African-American players.

Studio shows have prominently assigned African-Americans; including James Brown, Curt Menefee, Tony Dungy and Michael Strahan who remain major fixtures for their respective networks. CBS’ Irv Cross was the first to host or serve as a pre-Super Bowl analyst in 1976 and continued to engage in seven such roles through 1990. In all, by my count, there have been seven African-Americans who’ve reported from the sidelines, including O. J. Simpson.

Addressing this, the networks and the league launched an NFL Broadcast Boot Camp in 2007 and completed their 12th annual such workshop last spring.

On the basketball front, CBS and Turner added Grant Hill to the Final Four broadcast team of Nantz and Bill Raftery. ESPN has Mark Jackson on the team of Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy. The trio work the NBA finals.

Radio too in 53 years of Super Bowl coverage has not had an African-American in the booth as either a play-by-play voice or analyst. By my count, there have been 29 separate individuals who’ve worked the radio microphone since game one. James Lofton and Warren Moon, both black, have reported from the sidelines for network radio.

Would television benefit by adding a third man in the Super Bowl booth? It’s debatable. Broadcasters are like food and clothing. We each have our own taste.

This said, Fox’ lead analyst is Troy Aikman. The network has recently praised Charles Davis who’s on its payroll. He and Kevin Burkhardt worked the highly visible Eagles-Saints, NFC post-season game. If CBS tinkers with the glittering success of Nantz and Romo, James Lofton is on the network’s list of NFL talent. Moreover, perhaps Nate Burleson who’s sharp and has been a hit in the studio merits consideration. As for NBC, would Tony Dungy and Chris Collinsworth make a good team? 

If you’re wondering, these are some historical broadcasting breakthroughs:

  • In 1965, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to broadcast baseball nationally, doing so on ABC Television which then ran a network regular season package on Saturdays. Keith Jackson shared a story with me about how the two worked a game in St. Louis. When Jackson returned to his home in Southern California, he was met by the Watts riots. So Jackson reached out to Robinson and said, “Jackie, where are you? Come on out. We can use you here.”
  • In 1966, Lowell Perry was the first African American to broadcast an NFL game on network television, working for CBS.
  • In 1971, Tom Hawkins became the first African American to call the Final Four on network TV. His partner was Curt Gowdy on NBC.
  • In 1972, Bill Russell became the first black man to broadcast the NBA Finals on network TV. His ABC partner was Keith Jackson.
  • In 1995, Joe Morgan became the first African-American on a network television broadcast of the World Series. He joined Bob Costas on NBC.

Ken Levine: “The highlight was clearly Gladys Knight singing the National Anthem”

CBS’ telecast: Voices make the best of a Super Bowl with little material

Dan Mason on the CBS Telecast: Nantz gets a B+, Romo was limited because it was a defensive game

A List of the 53 announcers who’ve brought us joy, calling Super Bowls on network TV and radio

Tom Hedrick, 84 and Jack Whitaker, 94, are only two voices alive from ’67 inaugural Super Bowl

Everett Fitzhugh: Professional Hockey’s only African-American play-by-play announcer

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David J. Halberstam
David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

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Michael Green

As I read this, I remembered Lenny Moore telling about joining CBS Sports in 1968. Now, his recollections aren’t entirely right, because he talks about being assigned to work a bunch with Frank Gifford, and I think they did only one game together, according to http://506sports.com/forum/index.php?topic=3047.0. But he said that at the annual pre-season announcers meeting, another analyst told a joke that included a six-letter word that should never be used, and that the executive producer had a big smile on his face afterward. How much of the problem was and is blatant racism and how much of it is… Read more »