HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumble returns for a 19th season Tuesday night, and to be honest, I didn’t even know the series was still around. Certainly Gumble himself has looked better — he appears gaunt, disheveled and slightly befuddled as he walks us through his latest profile. But it’s his subject that had me taking a second look.
In the show, debuting on HBO at 9 p.m. (with rebroadcasts numerous times throughout the month), Gumble talks to a 51-year-old point guard for Mission College’s women’s basketball team, a 6-foot-6 powerhouse named Gabrielle Ludwig. But it’s not her age that’s the focus of the piece — it’s that she was born Robert Ludwig.
It’s been 30 years since Robert played a semester of NCAA hoops, dropping out not to be seen on the court again until last year. By then, Ludwig had transitioned to Gabrielle, and was quickly accepted Mission’s coach, who welcome outcasts on his team.
For the most part, Gumble handles the interview respectfully and thoroughly, using proper pronouns (and playing audio from ESPN Radio where commentators certainly did not, calling Ludwig “he/she” and “it”). And the reunion with Ludwig’s parents after nine years without contact is emotional and touching. Gumble’s only misstep, though — and it’s a big one — is when he questions how one of Ludwig’s teammates took two weeks before she knew Gabrielle was trans. “Come on! It took you two weeks?!” Gumble presses incredulously. Yes, Bryant. Not all trans people are as easy to clock as you think.
Sadly, the episode of Real Sports makes a much more insensitive and lazy joke at the expense of Mike Tyson. In the segment with the former heavyweight champ that kicks off the episode, annoying journo Bernie Goldberg sits in a theater where Tyson is performing his one-man show and asks him, “Are you a thespian?”
“I don’t know about that…” Tyson responds.
“I’m not talking about your sexuality,” Goldberg smugly laughs. “I’m talking about being an actor.”
Sure, Bernie — you thought you’d tease the champ with punny jokes about being a lesbian. But Tyson gets the last laugh, lecturing Goldberg about “Thespis” being the first actor in Greek lore. He didn’t overreact to Goldberg’s offensive, snarky, schoolyard taunt, he set him straight. Which, Bernie, is not meant as a comment on your sexuality.