Bill Cosby has a unique theory on how the sport of gymnastics was created.
“I think gymnastics was really an invention of people who drink,” Cosby said.
Before he could explain his claim, a crowd of around 200 people burst into laughter at the Independence Visitor Center. Cosby was in the middle of a stand-up act on August 14 that was benefitting Temple’s men gymnastics program, which lost its Division I status on July 1.
“So after a couple beers, some guy sees a pretty girl,” Cosby continued. “And wants to show her what he can do with a tree [branch]. And then some guy jumped on a [carpenter’s] horse…And he tried to outdo the guy with the rings.”
Soon enough, Cosby said there were men on several apparatuses trying to win over the same girl. It was one of the first jokes in a night where all the proceeds would be allocated toward coach Fred Turoff and his program, which will be a club this fall.
Turoff noted that among all the reasons Cosby stepped forward to have a concert in honor of his team, one of the most significant was former coach Carl Patterson, who started coaching Temple in 1955. Patterson’s career abruptly concluded with a life-ending stroke in 1968.
Cosby was required to take gymnastics courses for his physical education major and Patterson was his instructor. One of Patterson’s sons, Bob, was in attendance Thursday night and said there was a specific reason Cosby had such respect for his father.
“Bill was able to go to New York and do some stand-up in the winter,” Patterson said. “And my dad had to go to these meetings for the Olympic Rules Committee. Bill’s car wasn’t so good, so he caught a ride with him sometimes… [Comedy writer] Allan Sherman saw [Cosby] and made an offer to sponsor him and help get his first album out, but he was going to have to drop out of Temple.”
It was Patterson’s support for Cosby’s decision to drop out during his junior year that resonated with Cosby and was one of the key factors in prompting him to hold an event to help Turoff’s team.
Turoff, who had been planning for the event since spring, was happy that the night had finally arrived.
“[I feel] relief,” Turoff said. “I’ve been a busy man today…Especially when I get a call when [Cosby] was going to be an hour early… But it all worked out well and he is a wonderful guy.”
Patterson was also the coach of Tom Gibbs, who competed with Fred Turoff from 1965-1968, and volunteered for the Owls last year.
Gibbs was pleased with how the whole event unfolded, and knows it will have a positive impact on the program.
“This whole event is phenomenal,” Gibbs said. “For him to lend support to our cause, to give us some opportunity to reinstate the program, or at least continue to support at a club level, is huge.”
Gibbs said another major tie Cosby has to Temple athletics is through Gavin White, Jr., who was the father of current men’s crew coach Gavin White. White, Jr. coached Cosby in track and field and Cosby was fond of his guidance and his agreement with Patterson that he should drop out during his junior year to pursue his comedy career.
In fact, Cosby was a good enough athlete in track and field, basketball and football that he was inducted with Turoff into Temple’s Hall of Fame in 1984.
Like the rest of the audience, Pat McLaughlin, Turoff’s assistant the last two seasons, found Cosby’s act quite amusing. Even though he won’t be able to volunteer for Turoff’s squad in the fall, he was thankful that Cosby held the event.
“In terms of excitement, Bill Cosby is an absolutely incredible human being for even taking the time to do this for us,” McLaughlin said. “I think it says a lot about his character…and we get to see it first hand during this philanthropy.”
In terms of spreading awareness, McLaughlin was impressed by the diverse crowd he saw.
“There’s a lot of people I don’t know, and a lot I do know,” he said. “And that’s exciting to see a bunch of people that aren’t really related to the gymnastics community come towards the gymnastics community.”
It’s a fitting sign of affection given how successful the Temple men’s gymnastics program has been. It’s this program that Patterson feels ultimately produced some of the school’s finest student-athletes.
“If you’re talking about student-athletes, then these are some of the best in the school,” he said. “They’ve had high GPA’s, gone to the Olympics…Temple had to pick some sports [to cut], but they shouldn’t have picked this one.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SteveSportsGuy1.