Posted: February 24, 2019/ Re-visted August 27, 2019
By Gary Johnson with contributor Christopher Johnson
November 2019 will mark the 45th anniversary of “The Rumble in the Jungle.” The never to be forgotten fight between the undisputed and undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the world George Foreman and The Greatest, Muhammad Ali. The fight was held in Zaire, Africa. Ali stunned the boxing world when he knocked out Foreman in the 8th round. When the dust had cleared and Ali returned to the United States, the first media personality he called was his friend, Harold Bell. He asked Harold to meet him in New York City for the interview he had promised him in Chicago before flying to Zaire.
It took 45 years to just get “The Teaser” of the1974 Ali interview to the Big Screen, but on June 4, 2019, the Miracle Theatre on Capitol Hill was the host of “We Remember Muhammad Ali”. Family and friends traveled as far away as Louisville, New Orleans, and Charlottesville, Virginia to pay tribute to The Greatest! It was recently discovered that Congressman William Lacey Clay (D-Missouri) is a cousin of the Greatest!
As we head into February Black History Month 2020, one can say, if you’re going to be fact-based about our history, then you can make an argument that “good things come to those who wait.” This article was posted in February 2019, but I felt a need to re-visit. On November 24, 2019, the complete Ali interview will be seen in a Red Carpet Documentary titled “Ali & Harold Bell: Uncovered and Uncrowned” at the Miracle Theatre. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3I8zZFubB0
For tickets (limited seating) and more information: 240 334-7174
The late Ron Sutton of WHUR radio and Harold add a little color to the press table during a Washington Bullets game in Landover, Md. in the 70s.
This is not a blog about whether or not people like Harold Bell. Spoiler Alert: Harold Bell believes when you help others you help yourself.
The “I Don’t Like Harold Bell” line is LONG but invisible because it is based on he say, she say. Especially when you ask those who have benefited from his good deeds in the DC community. Former NFL Running Backs Larry Brown and NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown, former NBA Star and former Mayor of Detroit Dave Bing, radio and television owner Cathy Hughes, former Georgetown basketball Coach John Thompson, Boxer, Sugar Ray Leonard, NBA Adrian Dantley, Redskin QB Doug Williams, CBS/NFL James Brown, NFL Tony Paige, Boxing Promoter Don King and more–but none will go on The Record! They have all benefited from his good works in the community and his pioneering efforts in broadcast media. The benefactors read like a Who’s Who! There may be something to the metaphor, “Crabs in a barrel!”
When Larry Brown arrived in DC in 1969 as a rookie running back for the Washington Redskins it was Harold Bell who convinced him, Roy Jefferson, Harold McLinton and Ted Vactor to join Green Bay Packer great Willie Wood and NBA All-Pro Dave Bing on his non-profit organization team of Kids In Trouble. They were instrumental in his enhancing the growth and development of inner-city kids. He traveled to meet Larry’s parents who were living in the legendary “Hill District” of Pittsburgh. He helped to find jobs for Larry’s brothers and advised him about the drug environment he was caught up in before Coach George Allen called him on the carpet. When Jim Brown was the NFL poster boy for Domestic Violence and was arrested again in 1999 it was Harold Bell he called to campaign for his early release from jail. This was not the first time Harold had to bail Jim out of a sticky situation. Dave Bing after being named NBA Rookie of the Year in 1966 said, “Harold Bell you help prepare me for the NBA.” Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson was the first black to win an NCAA Division One championship. When he took over the Georgetown program in 1972 he could not win a game. It was Harold Bell who gave him and his players 5 minutes on Inside Sports every Monday to promote Georgetown basketball. Doug Williams arrived in town in 1986 and his friend former DC Public High School coach Bob Piper advised him, “Stick close to Harold Bell he will protect your back!” In 1988 Williams became the first black to win a Superbowl and be named the MVP. When legendary sports agent Dave Falk pick-pocketed Adrian Dantley’s account to the tune of several million dollars without his knowledge, it was Harold Bell who delivered the bad news to Adrian’s mother, Virginia. Adrian wasn’t the sharpest knife in the draw.Larry Brown running for daylight
Sugar Ray Leonard, when he won his first World Championship by defeating Wilfred Benitez he called Harold Bell live on Inside Sports (WYCB radio) and said, “Harold I am the welterweight champion today because you were there when no one else was and I thank you.” Leonard went on to become the first pro boxer to earn over 100 million dollars in prize money. Cathy Hughes while working as a receptionist for WHUR radio asked Harold Bell to be a Big Brother to her fatherless little child, Alfred! James Brown, “Harold Bell has been an inspiration and motivation for me and a lot of other black broadcasters.” Tony Paige, his mom, dad and him all came through Inside Sports. His first radio talk show experience was on Connecticut Ave. on W-O-L. His dad was a legendary DC athlete and his mom was ahead of the curb on prison reform back in the day. Tony got lost in the bright lights and big city of the NFL, a common thread when it comes to the black athlete.
Sugar Ray on Inside Sports before the 100 million
When the media was calling Don King a killer, a theft, and mob-connected, it was Harold Bell who was defending his right to a second chance in the Game Called Life in print media and on national television. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nygALb50FV4
I am trying to figure out “Where is the beef with Harold Bell?” Who are you going to believe “The Player-Haters or your lying eyes?”
That’s not the point of this blog because in 2019 he is still helping others and making history. Harold Bell is now in his 80s.
Harold Bell is a complicated individual. He is both polarizing/galvanizing because he is principled in his truth. He is relentless to prove his point and defend his position when it comes to our children regardless of their race, creed or color.
His advocacy for children can move him to tears when he sees them being neglected and mistreated. He has used his “microphone” to give voice to the voiceless.
He has been honored at the White House by President Richard M. Nixon and on The House Floor by Congressman Lou Stokes (D-Ohio), Senator Bob Dole (R-Kan) and DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton for his work with youth gangs and at-risk children. He was the first sports talk show host to be honored as Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian Magazine.
Redskin QB Joe Theisman and Harold Bell “Washingtonians of the Year”
And finally, at times, Harold Bell can be his own worst enemy only because people want to hear the truth when it is about someone else, but never about themselves!
I told you the man is complicated—but his mission is clear we could use more Harold Bells.
Despite being in the public eye for over 50 years, I can make a compelling argument that Harold Bell is deserving of wider recognition, but he seems to care less about the recognition. According to Harold, “My success is based on not getting stuck on stupid with stupid people. I give all the glory to God and the strong black women who raised me.”
Amy Tyler Bell aka “Grandme Bell”
Let’s take a brief look at Harold’s career and read why I wrote this blog.
Harold Bell is a fourth-generation Washingtonian. His great-grandfather the Rev. James Tyler laid the first brick to build historical Mount Airy Baptist Church in 1893. The church is located on North Capitol and L Streets, NW in the shadows of the Nation’s Capitol. There were 4 Bell boys, he was the only one born in Brooklyn, NY.
In high school, he was an all-around athlete at Spingarn where he thought he was the straw that stirred the drink (1956-58). He was a frequent resident of his coaches’ “Dog House.” One game his coach Dave Brown locked him in the school bus at half-time, simply because he wanted the ball when the game was on the line. Spingarn was also the home of NBA Hall of Famers, Elgin Baylor, and Dave Bing.
Harold and other student/athletes saying “Thank You” to coach Dave Brown and his family during Nike/Inside Sports tribute in his honor.
As a teenager growing up in a single-parent home, Harold Bell was a “Caddie” on the weekends at the exclusive all-white Burning Tree Golf Course in Bethesda, Maryland. He took on this task to help his mother to make ends meet (food and shelter). In 1957 t he began a friendship with club member Richard Nixon. Yes, that same Richard Nixon who went on to become President of the United States. Years later Bell was quoted as saying Nixon “was the first white man that ever acted as if he cared about me.” Harold Bell is a fourth-generation Washingtonian. His great-grandfather the Rev. James Tyler laid the first brick to build Mount Airy Baptist Church in 1893. The church is located on North Capitol and L Streets, NW in the shadows of the Nation’s Capitol.
In 1963, after leaving Winston-Salem State College before graduating he spend two years in the minor leagues chasing his NFL dreams without any success. He returned home to work for the United Planning Organization in 1965. The organization hired three Neighborhood Workers for its self-help program –Petey Greene, H. Rap Brown and Harold Bell.
In 1967 Harold Bell met Muhammad Ali on the campus of Howard University as he mesmerized several hundred students as he explained why he refused to be drafted into the U. S. Army and the topc of racism in America. He volunteered to take Ali on a walking tour of the Georgia Ave. NW corridor and the rest is sports media and community history.
In 1968, Harold was caught in the middle of the riots that rocked inner-cities all around this country after the shooting death of our Prince of Peace, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. For three days he walked the U Street NW corridor with nothing but a DC MPD police badge. The badge was issued to him by his friend Assistant Chief Tilmon O’Bryant to help get him through the police and military barricades set-up around the city.
In 1969 he was in the right place at the right time again when President Richard M. Nixon was touring the riot-torn area in Shaw/Cardozo in NW DC. He later contacted the President via a written letter to the White House. He received a Presidential Appointment to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
He coordinated and organized recreation and mentoring programs for troubled youth on area military installations. He moved over to the Department of Defense (DOD) one year later. He found the first-ever Half-Way House for juvenile delinquents on a military installation in 1971 on Bolling Air Force Base in SE DC. He recruited DC Superior Court judges, pro athletes to mentor the kids in the half-way house.
Bolling Boys Base (Bolling AFB SE DC)
Bell’s reputation was such that his friend local radio and TV host Petey Greene, (the “coolest” dude in the city) gave him 5-minutes on his WOL Sunday radio talk show “Petey Greene’s Washington,” every Sunday evening he and Petey would talk sports. In 1972 Bell ventured out to become the first black to produce and host a sports talk show, “Inside Sports.” The show ran for decades primarily on black gospel radio stations, W-O-O-K, WYCB, W-U-S-T, and WPFW radio. The Inside Sports format changed the way we talked about sports in America and the world. Harold Bell was the first to blend sports and politics into a sports talk show format.
In November 1975, he became the first black to host and produce a television sports special in prime time. The show aired on NBC affiliate WRC-TV 4 on November 23, 1975. His special guest was The Greatest, Muhammad Ali.
Harold Bell was the first sports radio host to play message music and host media round tables. He changed the way we talked about sports in America and around the world. DC Sports columnist Dick Heller called him “The Godfather of sports talk in America.”
Dale Hansen is a nationally known sportscaster and author of a commentary on “White Privilege” in America. He said, “Harold this is Dale Hansen in Dallas. My accomplishments in sports broadcasting are nothing but peeling off the wall of White Privilege compared to your accomplishments.” See link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTWMUhYG0Y8/
I find it rather strange how Mr. Hansen could adopt the Inside Sports talk format and become a hero. His commentary relating to “White Privilege” had him in demand on national television all over the country. In the meantime, Harold Bell had difficulty being invited on a local podcast (White Privilege)!
The “Inside Sports” format featured topics on racism in sports and America. This format was frowned upon at that time. ESPN just returned to “The Good Old Days” after following Harold Bell’s lead for over 4 decades of blending sports and politics, ESPN’s new President Jimmy Pitaro send out a memo to all of his broadcasters and talk show host telling them to “Stick to Sports!” ESPN will no longer will tolerate “Freedom of Speech” over its airwaves!
Harold Bell never conducted a “softball” interview. If you went on his show or agreed to be interviewed you better be ready for hard and honest questions that dealt with the issues. The man studied and did his homework in advance. Don’t take my word for it. Go back and listen to his interviews with Muhammad Ali, Red Auerbach, George Foreman, Don King, Andre Agassi, Jim Brown, Sugar Ray Leonard, Dr. Harry Edwards, and the late boxing historian Bert Randolph Sugar.
Harold campaigned to help get Green Bay Packer great Willie Wood inducted into the pro-Football Hall of Fame in 1989. In 2000, Harold hosted functions during NBA All-Star weekend in Washington, DC for Earl Lloyd. Lloyd was the NBA’s first black player with the old Washington Capitals. The purpose of the event was to get Lloyd the attention needed to get him inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. He made his NBA debut in 1950. He retired in 1960 and was finally inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003. Thanks to Harold Bell and the late NBA legend Red Auerbach and Washington Times sports columnist the late Dick Heller. Wille and Earl were able to make it in while they could still smell the roses.
NBA pioneer Earl Lloyd inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2003
Harold didn’t stop at getting people inducted into their Hall of Fames, he helped get people out of jail. Just ask NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown and local high school and playground legends, Jo Jo Hunter and the late Bernard Levi and numerous other athletes. Harold also helped athletes who were deserving of wider recognition. There were athletes like Gary Mays, a multi-sport star at all-black Armstrong High and a local Washington, DC, playground legend despite having lost his left arm in a childhood gun accident. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gf50v2egyNk
Harold and his wife Hattie were married in 1968 and started a foundation for at-risk children, “Kids In Trouble”, thousands of children have benefited from their annual toy party leading to successful and productive lives for hundreds. He and Hattie were the host and coordinators of 45 straight years of Christmas toy parties without grants or loans. The NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL have all followed his lead in reaching back into the community.
CBS/NFL films videotape Redskins RB Larry Brown and LB Harold McLinton teaching water safety to inner-city kids. This was the first-ever NFL community promo. The promo took place at the Kids In Trouble Saturday Program in NW DC.
There are times I am led to believe that Harold Bell goes into a phone booth and changes into a Super Man costume. For example; In 1969 he walked into the indoor swimming pool at his Kids In Trouble Saturday Program and found one his kids lying face-down on the bottom of the pool. He jumped in and pulled him out only to discover that no one knew how to administer CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation). He picked the child up off the pool floor and ran two blocks soaking wet to Children’s Hospital to save his life.
In 2007 he arrived at the Potomac Avenue subway station in SE DC to find a young girl lying on the subway tracks with folks just looking on. As he started to jump on the tracks to rescue the child a wise subway employee told him that would not be a smart move. He said, “There is a live rail that could electrocute you and the child.” He and the employee decided to lie down flat on their stomachs and reach out to the young girl to try to convince her to reach out to them. The child did not respond and just stared back at them. Suddenly Harold notices the lights were blinking under him indicating a train was arriving at the station maybe just a minute out. With sweat running down his face and scared as hell, he yelled at the child at the top of his voice, “Give me your Goddam hand girl.” She reached up and they pulled her to safety seconds before the train arrived. He later found out the child was 14 years old and Autistic.
I’ve seen Harold Bell interact with children. He doesn’t publicize a lot of what he does to encourage children to grow up to be good citizens. I’ve seen what he’s done with my son. Together, they do a YouTube show.
Whether you like him or not, Harold Bell has proven to be a man of great character and integrity. He is a man for all seasons and all people. The bottom-line; Harold Bell went where there was no path and left a trail for others to follow–that is my two cents.
Here are some other notables and what they have to say about Harold Bell.
“Harold and I have a lot in common. He too has persevered and stood fast for the principles in which he believes.” — Muhammad Ali
“Harold I am so proud to see you have returned to work with young people whose lives once resembled your very own.” — President Richard Nixon
“Harold, you help prepare me for the NBA” — Dave Bing (NBA Hall of Fame)
“Harold Bell has always provided a platform for those without one” — Jim Brown (NFL)
“Harold, I am the Welterweight Champion of the World today because you were there when no one else was.” — Sugar Ray Leonard, Boxing Hall of Fame
“Harold has always been a voice for people who didn’t have a voice. He has always called them as he saw them. He has been an inspiration and motivation for me and a lot of other black broadcasters.” — James Brown (NFL CBS Sports)
“Harold you have always been a voice for the people and we love you for it.” Judge Luke C. Moore — (DC Superior Court)
“Harold Bell is a unique sportscaster, former athlete, youth leader and social critic all Rolled into one.” — Bill Taaffe, (Washington Star/Sports IIIustrated)
“Harold Bell and Inside Sports makes sense.” — Red Auerbach (NBA Hall of Fame)
“Harold Bell maybe controversial but I have yet to hear anyone call him a liar.” — Earl Lloyd (NBA Hall of Fame)
“Harold Bell is a One Man Community Action Program. I don’t think I have ever met anyone like him. ” — Nicholas Blatchford (Columnist Washington Star Newspaper)
“Harold I thank you and my office staff thanks you for allowing us to be a part of your annual Christmas toy party for needy children.” — Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC)
“Harold Bell is the Godfather of sports talk—the good kind.” — Dick Heller, Washington Times
“Harold Bell is the Heavyweight Champion of sports talk.” — Don King (Boxing Hall of Fame)
“Sports talk as you see it today all started in Washington, DC with Harold Bell and Inside Sports.” — Johnny Sample (NFL Legend)
“Harold you can be a tough man sometimes but your work with children is commendable.” — John Thompson, (Georgetown University)
“Harold Bell if you had been white you would be a millionaire. People would have been calling Howard Cosell the black Harold Bell.” — Gene Kilroy (Ali Business Manager)
“As his own success took him out of the projects, he could not forget who he once was and where he came from.” — Lou Stokes (D-Ohio)
“No one is indispensable, but there are some people more necessary than others, Harold Bell is one of those people.” — Washington Star Newspaper Editorial
“Harold you are my hero” — Dave McKenna City Paper
“Harold Bell is a One Man Community Action Program and this city is far better place for him remembering where he came from.” — Washingtonian Magazine
“Harold, I have always admired the warrior inside of you. If we had more journalists like you, we would own this town instead of letting all the cheer-leading media scam artists have their way. People are just too weak minded to resist. That’s sad, but true.” — Sports Columnist Rick Snider
“Harold, I want to personally thank you for being my champion” — Willie Wood NFL Hall of Fame
“Harold, congratulations, your archives are valuable and should be given the broadest possible exposure. Your discs and videos of your programs belong in the new Smithsonian Institution of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). A wing of the new museum will be dedicated to the struggle in sports and will be titled “Leveling the Playing Field”. Your work was a major force over the years in leveling the playing field, especially in terms of the struggle to define and project “Our Truth!” Dr. Harry Edwards