The Story of “Jimmy the Greek” Resurfaces Due to Crisis in Virginia

February 12, 2019
Achilleas Kouremenos

NEW YORK – It was the year 1988 when a claim by sports commentator Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder that African-Americans are “born” better athletes than whites because of the fact that their ancestors had been slaves led to his dismissal from CBS.

The story of the son of Greek immigrants resurfaced in the Associated Press report concerning the political upheaval in the state of Virginia today which noted that racial stereotypes of African-Americans were widely accepted well into the 1980s.

It would take another decade for the strengthening of multicultural perceptions to partially alleviate racist taboos. This was largely due to the efforts of African-American intellectuals and journalists who, despite the obstacles, “were better positioned to successfully challenge racist images, and Hollywood began to listen,” AP reported.

The dismissal of the Greek-American sports commentator was one of the turning points in the status quo that existed until then, as it was one of the few times when someone was punished for reinforcing racist stereotypes.

Snyder’s exact words: “The black is a better athlete to begin with, because he’s been bred to be that way. Because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back. And they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs. And he’s bred to be the better athlete because this goes back all the way to the Civil War, when, during the slave trading, the big, the owner, the slave owner would, would, would, would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have uh, uh big, uh big, uh big black kid, see. That’s where it all started!” (Quoted verbatim from ESPN’s 30 for 30 series titled The Legend of Jimmy the Greek which originally aired on November 10, 2009).

Snyder was born Demetrios Synodinos, one of the three children born to Greek immigrants, George and Sultania Synodinos, who kept a small grocery store in Steubenville, Ohio. The family roots were in Chios.

During his teenage years, it became clear that Snyder had a gift for mathematics and statistics, which proved valuable in his later betting career.

“NFL Today” on CBS was one of the most popular TV shows in the early 1980s. It was one of the best combinations of reporting, analysis, predictions, humor, and talent. But no personality from those who participated in the show was more popular than Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, the television network “ESPN” reported in a related tribute to Snyder.

“The Greek” was not only turned into a national folk hero, but also inspired such respect as no one ever had in the world of gambling. Indeed, award-winning filmmaker Fritz Mitchell would later deal with the influence of the Greek-American on sports betting, but also how his comments on African-Americans led to his downfall and dethronement.

A downfall which could have claimed Donald Trump during his campaign in the summer of 2016, a period when he was criticized for calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” ridiculing the Massachusetts senator because she claimed she is partly of Native American heritage.

At a gathering for Trump in Maine, conservative radio talk show host Howie Carr had been mocking Warren in front of the audience with “war whoops,” Politico reported. Later, Carr wrote in the Boston Herald that Trump had given him the following advice: “Whatever you do, don’t apologize.”

“You never hear me apologize, do you?” Trump reportedly said. “That’s what killed Jimmy the Greek way back. Remember? He was doing okay ’til he said he was sorry.”


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