Over 28 years and more than 300 episodes, HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel has delivered everything from obscure sports/competition coverage to new interviews on issues of the day to profiles on interesting people. But one area that sometimes stands out is the series’ ability to tell tough stories on those battling devastating diseases. The latest there is a profile on Calgary Flames’ assistant general manager Chris Snow, in his fourth year of battling ALS after initially being diagnosed with one year to live.
Whether viewers are already aware of Snow’s story from following the NHL or following ALS’ impact on the sports world, or whether they’re completely new to it, the 14-minute segment on Snow (seen above working from hospital in a shot from the segment) airing as part of the latest Real Sports is still likely to be devastating and impactful. The segment, with correspondent Jon Frankel and producer Stephen Lorenzo, premieres as part of their March episode. That episode debuts Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO, and is also available on HBO Max. Here’s a clip on what keeps Snow going to work despite his ALS battle:
One of the most powerful exchanges in the whole segment comes in at 1:05 that clip, where Frankel asks “What is it that keeps you going to work? Why haven’t you just said ‘Put me on a sailboat and let me see the world?'” Snow responds “That’s not who I am. If I get up and go to work, then I’m still healthy and still winning.”
Beyond that, this whole segment is well worth watching for its thorough portrayal of Snow’s battle, and his family. It references how he has a family-specific ALS mutation, with the disease claiming the lives of two uncles, a cousin, and his father, and one of his doctors calls it “The worst form of ALS, where they can typically die in less than a year.” His wife Kelsie (a former Boston Globe sportswriter, who’s recently done a lot of powerful writing on her family’s battle) also gives an impactful interview on how this has affected her, saying her first reaction to the diagnosis was that she was going to be physically ill.
“I just asked Chris to get me a trash can because I thought I was going to throw up. You know that it’s out there, but until someone says it’s you, you can’t understand how devastating it is.”
And Kelsie Snow outlines how much of a toll this takes on her day to day life, but how she’s grateful to still have Chris, and how she feels about being able to take care of him.
“There’s not a single thing that he does in a day that he does not need help with, really,” she says. “I don’t think I’m great at a lot of things in life, but I am really good at taking care of Chris.”
She adds that it’s tough, though, especially with their kids having a 50 percent chance of carrying this gene themselves.
“The hardest thing about this has been realizing I can’t protect the people I love.”
Snow was initially diagnosed with one year or less to live, but is still going four years later. And he says that’s a victory, and he wants to keep that going, and to get as much time with his family as he can. “This is a complete win. …I have to think that I can beat this in order to get up each day and go on with normalcy, be a dad and play. So, as long as I can do those things, I don’t think that I am dying.”
Frankel at one point asks Snow’s daughter “Dad’s still dad, right?” She responds “Yeah. There’s just some things he can’t do. Some things have changed. Otherwise, his personality is the same. He’s the same guy.”
Snow says “Oftentimes, I apologize to the kids for what I can’t do. They’ll say ‘It’s not your fault.” And his daughter chimes in “Because it really isn’t his fault.”
Another key exchange comes when Frankel asks Snow “Are there still reasons for you to smile at this point?,” and he says “So many. I wish I could show that visually.”
And Kelsie Snow says that every moment is a blessing.
“I didn’t think he was going to turn 40. I didn’t think we’d get there. That’s what it is, right? All these moments that we have, we just have to squeeze as much life out of them as we can.”
The segment also shows them playing basement hockey with their children, and Snow talking about how that feels so important to him.
“Gratitude is that I can still sort of play with the kids. And that I went to work this morning. And gratitude is that I can still sort of talk. That’s just what you do. Next day, next step, do what’s next.”
The full segment here is well worth a watch for the much greater detail it dives into. It’s a touching and thoughtful portrait of a sports family facing incredible challenges. And it shows what Real Sports at its best can be.
This month’s episode of Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel premieres on HBO at 10 p.m. ET/PT Tuesday and is also available to stream on HBO Max. In addition to the Snow segment, it features segments on Dusty Baker, the World’s Strongest Brothers, and Hockey Night In Punjabi commentator Harnarayan Singh.