Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, 77, the flamboyant oddsmaker who was fired as a CBS Sports commentator for making controversial statements about black athletes, died Sunday at a hospital in Las Vegas, where he was being treated for a broken hip.
Snyder was born Emetrios Synodinos in Steubenville, Ohio. He made his reputation quoting odds on sporting events and became a national figure in the 1970s and 1980s as a contributor to CBS Sports’ weekly National Football League pregame show, “The NFL Today.”
In January 1988, he ignited a firestorm of controversy for remarks he made while having lunch at Duke Zeibert’s restaurant in downtown Washington. In town for a Redskins playoff game, he was asked by a reporter about the contributions of black athletes.
Snyder launched into a discourse about why he felt black athletes were superior to white athletes. He said that during the 1800s, “the slave owner would breed his big black with his big woman so that he would have a big black kid. … That’s where it all started.”
He also said that if blacks “take over coaching jobs like everybody wants them to, there’s not going to be anything left for the white people.” The interview was recorded by a WRC camera crew.
The day after his remarks were aired, Snyder was fired after 12 years with the network.
Snyder also was involved in a controversy at CBS eight years earlier. He and “NFL Today” co-host Brent Musburger were involved in a brief fistfight at a midtown New York bar. They reportedly argued over the amount of air time Snyder was getting from Musburger, who was the show’s managing editor.
Snyder made odds on all sports. He almost always carried a huge wad of $100 bills in his pocket and had a penchant for the racetrack. He attended most of the major events, and, at one point, his syndicated column and daily odds were picked up by more than 200 newspapers. He liked to boast that he had picked the winners in 18 of the first 21 Super Bowls. After CBS fired him, however, many papers dropped his service, and he essentially retired to his home in Durham, N.C.
Snyder, son of a Greek immigrant grocer, was a 10th-grade dropout who dealt craps growing up in Steubenville. His mother was shot to death in front of her house by her brother-in-law when Jimmy was 10.
After World War II, he moved to Las Vegas and began making his reputation in public relations, at one point representing Howard Hughes. Before the 1948 presidential election, he polled 1,900 women and found that most of them did not like men with moustaches. As a result, he made Harry S. Truman a 17-to-1 favorite to beat the mustachioed Thomas E. Dewey. When Truman won, Snyder reportedly made $170,000 and was on his way.
Snyder moved to Las Vegas in the 1950s. In 1962, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy shut down his Vegas Turf and Sportsroom and fined him $50,000 after he was caught giving odds to a friend over the phone. President Ford later pardoned him for gambling violations.
Unsure what to do, he started an odds column for a Las Vegas newspaper that propelled him to prominence.
Snyder and his wife lost three children to cystic fibrosis.
An autobiography, “Wizard of Odds,” is to be published next month.
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