NEW YORK, N.Y. - The host of HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" on Monday defended his monthly sports magazine against claims by a British soccer ball maker that it delivered a "pack of lies" with a 2008 segment about child labour in India.
Gumbel told a federal court jury that "Children of Industry" was the kind of hard-hitting journalism he had in mind when he created a monthly sports magazine that would go way beyond fawning sportscasters whose idea of an interview is: "What kind of pitch did you hit, Bob?"
Gumbel was called to the witness stand by HBO in the latter stages of a trial in which Mitre Sports International is saying it was libeled when it was the only company identified in a 21-minute segment that showed children stitching soccer balls in Jalandhar, India, for a nickel an hour.
"My role was extremely limited," Gumbel said of his work on a segment that was created in part by a man he described as his best producer.
Gumbel said that when he heard the concept at a meeting in which the show's workers pitch ideas, he thought it "reflected what 'Real Sports' is all about."
Mitre attorney Lloyd Constantine told jurors earlier in the trial that the segment aired more than 100 times and was seen by millions of people. He said Mitre was mentioned 24 times as HBO delivered a "pack of lies" and "reckless and intentional falsity" to its viewers by overlooking the fact that Mitre goes to great lengths to prevent child labour but that parents stitching together balls at home occasionally make their children work.
He said Mitre, the oldest soccer ball company in the world but the seventh-largest soccer brand, was a pioneer in stopping child exploitation throughout the sporting goods industry.
"Most of 'Children of Industry' is fiction," he said. "The now-rare instances of desperate mothers using their kids for extra income wasn't the story 'Real Sports' wanted. But it was the real story."