With its premiere episode in April 1995 — a Frank Deford report on Augusta, Ga., home of The Masters golf tournament — Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel began looking into the sports world and the ways it affects and reflects society, fearlessly questioning the minds, hearts and behaviors of athletes, coaches, owners and even parents.
Beginning as a quarterly feature, the Home Box Office show evolved to monthly status after four years. Through it all, host Bryant Gumbel has reported and led the show’s correspondents with an investigative eye and a respect for varied subject matter.
The show’s 10th anniversary special features the entire cast of correspondents recapping some of the best stories they’ve reported over the years. Yet executive producers Ross Greenburg and Rick Bernstein carefully play this as less of a tribute to the multiple Emmy Award-winning show and team, and more as an honor to the subjects that have been featured. In some cases, the correspondents emit a sense of admiration at having worked on these segments, such as the Miracle League, which allows children with disabilities to play organized baseball.
Clips of hard-hitting, difficult interviews underscore the tenacity with which the correspondents have pursued their subjects.
When asked why so many former wrestlers had died at early ages, the volatile World Wrestling Entertainment boss Vince McMahon slapped papers from his interviewer’s hands. And Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw broke into tears at the admission of his battle with depression and his fight for recovery.
On more than one occasion, interviewees abruptly ended conversations, walking away with questions left unanswered.
But over the years, Real Sports has continued to ask questions. Five days after reporting on the potential health risks of weight gain of National Football League players, former New Orleans Saints lineman Frank Warren passed away of an apparent heart attack.
The anniversary special pays particular tribute to what seems to be one of the most poignant and proud moments of the show’s 10-year tenure: the release of Georgia High School football player Marcus Dixon from prison. After Gumbel’s report on what appeared to be the youngster’s wrongful conviction, Dixon regained his freedom and rebuilt his life.
Looking from a perspective few would otherwise have the opportunity to explore, the venerable news magazine show has managed to keep its edge.
Real Sports spends this hour going behind its own curtain, at once appreciative of what it has been able to do, while allowing viewers insights into what it has been like to take some of these investigative journeys.
Real Sports’ 10th anniversary special premieres Sunday, April 10 at 8 p.m. on HBO.