ESPN 30 for 30: The Legend of Jimmy the Greek (2009)

Directed by Fritz Mitchell

My knowledge of betting and gambling is very limited. I have never been in a casino or the Las Vegas, but when I was about 14 I did make it out to the local race track with the family. Through my parents I was able to place a little bet and lucky me, I won! It was a great thrill and I can see where people would becomes addicted to it, but I have used extreme caution and not bet since. Well, unless friendly poker games and football pools count. See? Even the people that claim they are not gamblers, are. I am a perfect example of this, and as such it can be assumed that America is a country of varying degrees of gamblers. And during his reign on top, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was perhaps the most successful gambler in the country.

Born in Steubenville, Ohio, Snyder grew up in a town where vice was overlooked and almost accepted. Soon he found that by asking the train conductors to bring the newspapers from every city they had been in, that he could use that local information to gain an edge in wagering. He made lots of money quickly and soon moved to Las Vegas where he continued his success by opening a business, but his real success came when CBS hired him for their Sunday morning football program The NFL Today. By hiring The Greek, CBS had legitimized his profession. And Jimmy was the perfect personality for television. The network was coy about their use of Jimmy, avoiding betting terminology and betting lines on the show. But soon, Snyder made racial comments that got him in hot water which he could not get out of.

I was not very surprised to learn that Jimmy the Greek was from Steubenville, Ohio. I’m not sure how many people are familiar with the little Eastern Ohio town, but being from Ohio myself I have heard my fair share of stories about mob fronts and mob connections. So for a famed gambler to come from that town was none too surprising. The life of Jimmy the Greek was also definitely an interesting path for such a man to take. He was massively successful, both financially and int he public eye once he gained his job on CBS. He was chastised for making the Colts 17 point favorites in the Super Bowl Joe Namath’s Jets upset them, but little did they know his job was to set the line for equal betting on both sides. His street smarts is what made him great, but his street sense may have also been what brought him down.

The film takes a fairly straightforward approach to telling the story, much like in the previous installment Without Bias. I am beginning to see what the goal and direction of this series is going to be. After six episodes I have only been overly impressed by two of them, but with the experience of these six I have been educated about certain events that I did not know about before. The series is simple and with hour long episodes it is hard for it not to be. But for what it sets out to do, it is accomplishing its goals. For that it should be applauded, but from a filmmaking perspective there is nothing very impressive about the series. So from this point on I know what I can expect, and I don’t want to confuse anyone, I am still having a good time with the series.

One of the main strengths of the film was how it dealt with the fall of Jimmy. While I cannot say that the film intentionally did this, or even touched on it with the interviews, but it certainly gave me something to think about when it comes to forgiveness in this society. Jimmy Snyder made a mistake and made some unfortunate comments. They were racial and uncalled for, but I would not call them racist, as they were actually saying that black athletes were superior to their white counterparts. The inability of America to forgive him for his words is sad and the result was Snyder looking dirty, living in Las Vegas, and asking his former producer for money. He went from the top straight to the bottom with no chance at redemption. I can’t help but think that society picks and chooses who to forgive for their wrong doings. What will the documentary on Tiger Woods look like in 10-15 years?

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