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Former NFL star rips Gumbel

Smith: TV host desperate to be respected voice again

Posted: Tuesday August 22, 2006 2:38PM; Updated: Tuesday August 22, 2006 9:34PM
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The league said it would discuss Bryant Gumbel's future with the NFL Network in the coming weeks.
The league said it would discuss Bryant Gumbel's future with the NFL Network in the coming weeks.
Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

In a scathing rebuke of Bryant Gumbel's recent comments on HBO's Real Sports last week that NFLPA head Gene Upshaw is a "personal pet" of outgoing NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, former Minnesota Vikings running back and longtime player rep Robert Smith accused the TV host of both desperation and jealousy.

"Bryant Gumbel has fallen in recent times,'' Smith told SI.com on Tuesday. "He's desperate to have a respected, national voice again, but the problem is a lot of people aren't listening anymore. So you've got to say something like that to get attention for yourself. But he's misinformed.

"To me, this is Gumbel's Dan Rather-type mistake. He's someone who has been around for a while and has some credibility, but who wants to believe a certain perception. I believe part of it with Gumbel is that Gene is a much more powerful black man than he is. And he's jealous of Gene's power and position. I think Gumbel's even jealous of where his former [NBC's Today] co-host Katie Couric is, and how she's moved on to a more powerful position and he still hasn't.''

Gumbel ended Real Sports last week by reminding new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to have Tagliabue show him "where he keeps Gene Upshaw's leash.''

Gumbel went on to say: "By making the docile head of the players union his personal pet, your predecessor has kept the peace without giving players the kind of guarantees other pros take for granted. Try to make sure no one competent ever replaces Upshaw on your watch.''

Smith, who retired in 2001 but still serves voluntarily on the NFLPA's card committee, which regulates and disciplines agents, said, "When you look at the issues and the recent round of CBA negotiations and what actually happened, ask the owners if they have Gene on a leash or if they control Gene. Ask them if they're happy with the CBA agreement and Gene's subservience.

"How many owners have come out and said they got the worse end of the deal? When you know the truth about something and you hear the opposite enough times, it really grates on you. That's where I'm at.''

Smith said that Upshaw would not dignify Gumbel's comments with a reaction, but that "I felt like I had to say something, because it just drives you crazy if you let this stuff go unchallenged.''