HBO forms winning tag team, selecting Lee to profile Belle

Media Watch

September 10, 1996|By Milton Kent

NEW YORK -- To truly capture the soul of a person, to accurately tell others what makes another behave in a certain manner, a biographer either must completely divorce his own preconceived notions and beliefs, or allow them to weave their way through the story, thereby enhancing it.

So, it wasn't accidental that HBO tapped filmmaker Spike Lee to do a profile of Cleveland Indians outfielder Albert Belle for "Real Sports" tonight at 9: 30. Lee's work, in films such as "She's Gotta Have It," "Do The Right Thing," "Jungle Fever," and "Malcolm X," always has been confrontational and uncompromising, flowing with his musings and ideas. So, too, is his 20-minute look at baseball's most controversial figure, told over two segments, and shot in Cleveland and New York.

The piece tackles issues of race, as a lot of Lee's projects have done, but through the instrument of the media, whom Belle, and by extension, Lee, believes to be the outfielder's source of aggravation.

"Does he believe it [that the media are out to get him]? Yeah, he believes it. I don't think anybody's out to get him, but I think he's received a lot of unfair treatment. I think this is a fair piece. I don't think we try to build him up as a saint, but I think we're very fair," said Lee.

Frankly, the "unfair media" rap is so overused as to become trite, and that is certainly true in the case of Belle, who, from virtually the beginning of his career, has been unceasingly hostile to the media, generally without cause.

In the case of Belle's profane treatment of NBC's Hannah Storm during last year's World Series, and his attempted beaning of a Sports Illustrated photographer during spring training, his conduct has bordered on criminal.

However, Lee does make a valid point about the racial divide between black athletes and the overwhelmingly white media that cover them. Players are forced to deal with media members who know them only in the most cursory fashion, yet make judgments on them, often without taking the time to see the world through their perspective.

"Albert Belle is like a lot of African-American athletes. They're not going to talk about it," Lee said. "You have a couple like Bryan Cox or a Reggie White, but for the most part, they're not going to say anything that will mess with that paycheck. It's there, though. . . .

"There's an adversarial thing happening with the black athlete and the white media. A lot of these guys get tired of it. They see very few black reporters in the press box or in the clubhouse."

Lee, whose HBO profiles of Mike Tyson and Georgetown coach John Thompson won sports Emmy awards, may well pick up a third for another thought-provoking piece of work that opens something of a window into the soul of a very complex man.

Weekend wrapup

The good: A nod to Fox for a brief but classy tribute during its pre-game show Sunday to the late Bill MacPhail, a sports broadcasting pioneer who negotiated the first NFL television contract in the early 1960s while he was an executive with CBS Sports, where he also developed slow-motion replay.

MacPhail hired such industry notables as Jim McKay, Pat Summerall, Frank Gifford -- and ESPN's Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, when he was at CNN, where he started the sports division. His warmth, charm and dedication will be missed.

The bad: What exactly will it take for CBS to pull the plug on John McEnroe, if he can't get over this fixation he seems to have with Mary Carillo's presence in the booth for men's tennis matches?

McEnroe took another shot at Carillo in the current Sports Illustrated, saying that an unknown "they" pretend that Carillo "knows as much about men's tennis as me. Why don't they have three women broadcast the NBA Finals?"

Well, John, that day is on its way, and it will arrive when network offices aren't populated by Neanderthals like you, who can't accept when a woman can do a job as well or, in the case of Carillo, better than you.

The baffling: For Baltimoreans who don't have cable, there was no televised way to know what was happening during Sunday's Orioles game, going on simultaneously with the Ravens' contest. It's arrogant of NBC to think that people who are watching football don't want to see results from other sports. Maybe it's time for an enterprising affiliate to improvise a crawl with relevant local scores during football. Get the hint, Channel 11?

Pub Date: 9/10/96

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