TV Picks: HBO’s smart sports series “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” returns March 25.
The most honored sports journalism series is continuing its 20th season with more enterprising features and reporting when the show’s 204th edition debuts Tuesday, March 25 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT).
The series debuted April 2, 1995 and has gone on to win the Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Journalism 15 times, receiving 25 Sports Emmy Awards overall. Gumbel’s show was the sole sports program recognized by the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication with a 2012 George F. Peabody Award for broadcast excellence. In addition, it is the only sports program ever honored with two duPont Awards, first in 2005 and again in 2012. Not too shabby.
Gumbel has had a long career in broadcast news, and was paired with Jane Pauley during the golden era of the “Today” Show, from 1982 to 1989.
Here is what is coming March 25, from HBO:
Gaming the System.
In 2003, the NCAA instituted an academic reform initiative to reemphasize a commitment to the education of all student-athletes, mandating that schools graduate a majority of each team, or face punishments ranging from a loss of scholarships to a ban on postseason play. Later that year, the NCAA eliminated the requirement that student-athletes have a minimum SAT score of 820, which was determined to hurt the chances of minority acceptance in athletic programs. Lower admission standards, coupled with higher graduation requirements, meant that many top-flight schools needed to commit resources for learning specialists to ensure their student-athletes measured up.
What resulted, however, fell short of expectations. REAL SPORTS’ investigative team spent six months vetting the multi-million dollar academic advising centers, which operate as “schools within schools” and are responsible for enabling student-athletes with elementary educations to graduate from big-time universities. Correspondent Bernard Goldberg reports on some alarming discoveries.
Producer: Josh Fine.
The Sisters Schimmel.
A force in women’s basketball, the University of Louisville hopes to return to the Final Four for the second straight year after earning a three-seed in this year’s tournament. The Cardinals are led in part by two sisters who hail from a little-known basketball hotbed in the United States: Native American reservations. The older sibling, All-American senior guard Shoni Schimmel, is widely expected to be a top pick in the WNBA draft next month. Junior guard Jude Schimmel is the team’s reliable sixth woman.
The Schimmels grew up on the Umatilla reservation in Pendleton, Ore., where basketball is considered their national pastime. But while basketball talent, tradition and passion are abundant on reservations, success stories are not. Native players have been stereotyped as undisciplined on and off the court, while some refuse to leave the reservation’s insular world, both factors that have discouraged big-time recruiting. In this REAL SPORTS/Sports Illustrated segment, correspondent Jon Frankel sits down with the Schimmel sisters to learn about their journey from the reservation to the spotlight of high-profile college basketball.
Producer: Jason Samuels.
Run to Health.
In her late 20s, former professional tennis player Diane Van Deren was diagnosed with epilepsy after suffering a grand mal seizure. To control and cope with her condition, she began running whenever she felt the aura of another oncoming event. Her life changed forever at 37, when Van Deren underwent a partial ring temporal lobectomy, which removed the portion of the brain causing the frightening and debilitating seizures. But the brain damage caused by a decade of repeated trauma was permanent.
Unexpectedly, she acquired the ability to run like never before. As she trains daily, Van Deren’s damaged brain retains little short-term information. She often has no idea where or how far she runs, which can be helpful in a race of more than 100 miles, but not so useful when she needs to recall daily details like where she parked her car. REAL SPORTS correspondent Andrea Kremer heads to Colorado to learn more about the 53-year-old Van Deren, now one of the world’s top ultra-marathoners, and understand how her brain limitations have facilitated her success.
Producer: Chapman Downes.
Featuring real-life cowboys who give their all to remain atop a 2000-pound wild bucking animal, bull riding is widely recognized as the most dangerous eight seconds in sports. When REAL SPORTS first visited the Professional Bull Riding (PBR) tour in 2009, the debate over requiring riders to wear helmets to help prevent concussions and other traumatic brain injuries was heating up. Recently, correspondent Jon Frankel headed to the 2014 PBR season opener in New York City, featuring the world’s top 35 bull riders. REAL SPORTS’ cameras captured a new PBR, in which most of the top riders have traded in their Stetsons for helmets and new riders are required to wear them. Frankel asks whether bull riding is now a kinder and gentler sport, and what this means for its maverick brand.
Producers: Nisreen Habbal, Tim Walker.
HBO On Demand® availability: March 26-April 14
Other HBO playdates: March 25 (3:45 a.m.), 28 (9:30 a.m., 5:00 p.m.) and 29 (10:45 a.m., 12:45 a.m.), and April 3 (1:30 p.m., 8:00 p.m.), 6 (9:30 a.m.) and 9 (7:00 p.m., 1:30 a.m.)
HBO2 playdates: March 27 (5:15 p.m., 8:30 p.m.) and 31 (3:15 p.m., 1:00 a.m.), and April 2 (7:00 a.m.) and 13 (3:15 p.m., 11:00 p.m.)