Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder, who parlayed oddsmaking skills and a gift for gab into national prominence before his television career crashed over ill-advised remarks about black athletes, died Sunday.
Snyder, 76, died of heart failure at a local hospital after a long illness, said longtime friend Tommy Manakides.Snyder, who at his peak was a colorful and often-quoted CBS Sports commentator, lived his late years in virtual obscurity after being fired by the network in 1988 for saying that black athletes were superior to whites.
"He really just went downhill after that," said longtime Las Vegas gambler Lem Banker. "It was a shame. He was real bitter. He got a bum deal from them."
Snyder turned oddsmaking into mainstream entertainment in his 12 years as part of CBS TV's Sunday afternoon "NFL Today" pregame shows, and became a popular personality whose predictions were followed closely by his fans.
His career abruptly ended, however, after he ignited a firestorm in an interview with WRC-TV in Washington. The station was seeking comment in connection with Martin Luther King's birthday, asking about the progress blacks had made in society.
During the Civil War, "the slave owner would breed his big black with his big woman so that he would have a big black kid," Snyder said during the interview. "That's where it all started."
Snyder also said that if blacks "take over coaching jobs like everybody wants them to, there's not to be anything left for the white people."
Snyder also said a black athlete was better than a white one because "he's been bred to be that way because of his thigh size and big size."
CBS Sports fired Snyder the next day, and he issued an apology saying, "I am truly sorry for my remarks, and once again I offer my heartfelt apology to all I may have offended."
"CBS Evening News" anchor Dan Rather read an apology on the air the night after Snyder's remarks were made public. Snyder later sued the network, claiming CBS used the remarks as an excuse to fire him because of his age.
"He took the firing personally," his brother, John Synodinos, told The Associated Press on Sunday in a telephone interview from Wintersville, Ohio. "He felt he was falsely accused. He was praising the blacks actually.
"It bothered him that they thought ill of him. The accusations that they made were wrong and mistaken and that bothered him.
"Some things he said were history, but not the proper thing to say at the time - not politically correct."
Despite the nature of their parting, CBS had kind words for Snyder.
"Jimmy The Greek was a good friend to CBS for many years," said network spokeswoman LeslieAnne Wade. "He was an original who helped make the `NFL Today' the premier pregame show of its time. He'll be missed."
Snyder, who lived in Durham, N.C., but often visited Las Vegas, had been in and out of hospitals for several months, Manakides said.
An autobiography, "Wizard of Odds," is to be published next month, Manakides said. An earlier book, "Jimmy The Greek," was published in 1975.
Snyder, born Emetrios Synodinos in Steubenville, Ohio, regularly talked about upcoming games and made predictions on the "NFL Today." His biggest claim to fame was picking the winner in 18 of 21 Super Bowls.
His reputed oddsmaking skills earned Snyder a reputation beyond the sports arena. When he wrote a newspaper column syndicated to 240 papers across the country, he often forecast presidential and other political races.
"His objective was to get national recognition, and he did," said longtime friend Jack Franzi, an oddsmaker for the Barbary Coast hotel-casino. "Jimmy knew how to market himself. He absolutely became the most noted and famous oddsmaker in the country."
Franzi said Snyder was an innovator as a sports book operator and credited him with helping the sports betting industry explode to the multibillion-dollar business it is today.
"He helped the betting industry immensely," Franzi said. "Ninety percent of the people would turn on the TV to hear Jimmy give the prices. They would wait for his odds for the games."
Former Secretary of State George P. Schultz once drew chuckles and headlines when he was asked the odds on a possible U.S.-Soviet summit.
"If you were in a statistical frame of mind, and if Jimmy the Greek was here, maybe the probability would be something between 2 and 4 (out of 10)," Schultz said.
Snyder also spoke frequently to business groups and corporations, and did television commercials.
He made headlines eight years before his dismissal by CBS when he and "NFL Today" host Brent Musburger got into a brief fistfight at a midtown New York bar. They reportedly argued over the amount of airtime Snyder was getting from Musburger, who also was the show's managing editor.
In 1988, six days after his January firing by CBS, the heavyset Snyder spent several days in the Duke University Medical Center, where examinations revealed that one of the three arteries to his heart was blocked.
"The interns were laying 15-1 odds that I would make it," he said at the time.
Snyder 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.
Snyder moved to Las Vegas in the 1950s, where he was an oddsmaker and gambler before starting his own betting parlor in the downtown area.
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.
Not knowing what else to do, he started an odds column for a Las Vegas newspaper that propelled him to national attention.
Snyder and his wife, Joan, lost three children to cystic fibrosis. Tina died at 21/2; Florence at 30 days; son Jamie at 27.
In addition to his widow and brother, survivors include his stepmother, Agnes, of Wintersville; daughters Vicki and Stephanie, and a son, Anthony, all of Steubenville; sisters Mary Papalios of Athens, Greece; Marika Berris of Steubenville, and Angela Kayafas of Wintersville, and one grandson.
The funeral will be Thursday at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Steubenville. Burial will be in Union Cemetery. Calling hours will be Wednesday at Mosti Funeral Home in Steubenville. John Synodinos said times had not been determined.
In lieu of flowers, family requested that contributions be sent to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.