Ed Sabol, founder of NFL Films and the man responsible for how we view—quite literally—the sport of football today, died Monday at the age of 98. The filmmaker, who is also credited as the inventor of the sports blooper reel, revolutionized the genre of sports photography and videography with his innovative and creative approach to filming.
“Ed Sabol played a significant role in making professional football America’s No. 1 spectator sport, in part by borrowing from Hollywood,” Sabol’s New York Times obit explains. “He deployed multiple cameras, zoomed in for raw close-up shots — of a linebacker’s bloody knuckles, for example — employed unexpected angles, added slow motion for dramatic effect, and put microphones on players, coaches and officials, capturing exhortations and the thuds and grunts of a violent game.”
As former Scroll editor Marc Tracy wrote in 2011 when it was announced that Sabol would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “Whether you know what it is or not, your understanding of the NFL has been shaped by NFL Films’ trademark mythologizing style. He is, of course, Jewish.”
Sabol built NFL Films with his son, Scott Sabol, who died of brain cancer in 2012. “My father, he was the most important, because he knew business and loved schmoozing with people, while he let me try all these things with the films,” the younger Sabol told the Times in 2000.
But Sabol, who was born in Philadelphia in 1916, wasn’t just active in the sporting world behind the camera. He was a skilled swimmer, but declined to attend the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin as an alternate for the U.S. team, memorably saying he refused to swim in a pool built by Hitler.
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.