ESPN fumbled by hiring Rush Limbaugh

Tonight marks the beginning of the NFL season and the return of ESPN's pre-game Countdown show, which has become as cherished a football season ritual as NFL Today was in the '70s with Brent Musberger, Irv Cross, and Phyllis George.

I won't be watching a minute of the program until ESPN jettisons the dead weight it brought on with the hiring of Rush Limbaugh.

It's bad enough that every city in the U.S. plays the talk show of Limbaugh, who never met an issue he couldn't oversimplify or mischaracterize. He's such a relentless blowhard that you can catch his show for a few moments while scanning the radio dial and still get his point.

After all, he has only one point, which he makes over and over: Something happened in the news recently that was either bad or good, and thanks to my incredibly gifted skills of observation on loan from God, I can tell you that it proves Democrats are liberal traitors who try to steal elections so they can raise your taxes to pay for the partial-birth abortions of under-age gay whales.

Nothing in this column will be persuasive to the millions who enjoy Limbaugh's show or share his politics, but I'd like to remind the other half of the country why the guy should be stopped from spreading his particular brand of idiocy into the sports world.

Reason No. 1: Limbaugh's a creep.

Shortly after Bill Clinton took office, Limbaugh had a short-lived syndicated TV show. In a widely reported incident that I viewed personally, he talked about Socks the cat and then asked his audience, "did you know there's a White House dog?" For his punchline, Limbaugh showed a photo of a 12-year-old Chelsea Clinton.

It takes a special breed of jerk to go after the under-age child of a politician who was new to the national spotlight and not participating publicly in any political events. To expose her to ridicule for her looks, at what is easily the most awkward stage of adolescence, is completely indefensible.

Although the remark was immediately condemned, it took Limbaugh 10 years to have the decency to apologize, telling Hillary Clinton in December 2002 that he regretted making "a personal attack upon an innocent girl."

Reason No. 2: Limbaugh's a racist.

Over the years, a number of sports figures have come under fire for prejudiced remarks, including Al Campanis, Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder, Fuzzy Zoeller and John Rocker.

The sensitivity regarding the issue has become exceptionally acute, even to the point that minorities in the sports world are being more careful about what they say. Some groups called for the firing of Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker after he told reporters, "I like to play in the heat. Most Latin people and minority people do. You don't find too many brothers from New Hampshire or Maine, right? We were brought over here because we could work in the heat -- isn't that history?"

Considering that, it's worth a look at some of the things Limbaugh has said on the air over the years:

  • He offered this theory as to why Salvador Garcia, a Mexican, won the 1991 New York City Marathon: "an immigration agent chased him for the last 10 miles."
  • He told an African-American radio-show caller, "take that bone out of your nose and call me back."
  • He said, "the NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies."
  • In response to a caller suggesting that black Americans need to be heard, he responded, "they are 12 percent of the population. Who the hell cares?"
  • He played the Jeffersons theme whenever discussing Carole Mosley-Braun, the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
  • He said, "have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?"

In an online chat, Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon had this to say about rumors Limbaugh would be hired by Monday Night Football, which is probably still his long-term goal:

"I have attended or watched all but about 5 or 6 MNF games in 30 years. If Rush Limbaugh is put in that booth, I will not listen to the broadcast. His views on people like me are well documented and I would find it insulting and hypocritical to watch him do the broadcast. And I'm sure, absolutely certain, there are tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands who feel the same way I do."

Even if these racist comments are exceptions to the normal fare of Limbaugh's program, a sports figure who said even one of those remarks would be subjected to widespread condemnation or worse. If any sports broadcaster said today that a Latino athlete ran like the immigration authorities were after him, that person would be looking for work tomorrow.

Reason No. 3: Limbaugh's a bore.

One thing that's often said of Limbaugh is that he's worth listening to as an entertaining satirist, even if you're not enamored with his shrill partisan politics. Personally, I think he could only be considered funny in comparison to the other rabid hosts on political talk shows, who are a droll, humorless, and tendentious crowd.

While that's entirely subjective, if Limbaugh is an engaging and funny person, wouldn't some of this be demonstrated when he ventures outside of politics and discusses other things?

Limbaugh has been talking a lot to the press since rumors first surfaced of his interest in Monday Night Football, giving him an opportunity to demonstrate an aptitude for sports talk.

Read the interview he gave Sports Illustrated and try to find any point at which he has something interesting or amusing to say about a sports-related subject. As far as I can tell, he has only one joke -- his penchant for unabashed self-admiration -- and that "talent on loan from God" shtick is so tired and overdone he could trade notes with Chris Berman.

When Limbaugh tells SI  about his achievements as a Kansas City Royals' employee in the '70s, it may be the single-most boring anecdote ever shared in the history of sport: "I brought in some of the best ceremonial first-pitch tossers and some of the best national anthem singers the world of sports has ever known. That's one of the things I had to do. I even had to escort national anthem singers to second base during the playoffs to sing."

Reason No. 4: Limbaugh's an ideologue.

For the most part, professional sports are a respite from the endless squawk of partisan politics. There's talk of things like anti-trust exemptions, gender equity, and boxing regulations keeping a somber-faced Bryant Gumbel busy on HBO RealSports, but when game time rolls around, most fans are glad to tune all of that stuff out.

Limbaugh and the ESPN executives who hired him claim that he won't bring politics into Countdown, which is a pretty strange plan, since politics are the only thing that makes him interesting to anyone. Take them away, and he has no experiences upon which to talk sports, aside from the rare occasion when an expert opinion might be needed on ceremonial pitches and national anthems.

Muzzling him on the subject of politics is like forbidding Michael Irvin from talking about pro athletes who get in trouble with the law.

However, it won't happen. Limbaugh's already bringing politics into his work in football, as shown by this quote from that Sports Illustrated interview:

SI: Can a team with a liberal philosophy on offense win a Super Bowl?

Limbaugh: No, but we have to define the terms. People call me a conservative guy, meaning three yards and a cloud of dust, and that's wrong. That's not what a conservative is in football. A conservative philosophy is you go for it all, you try to change it up. A conservative philosophy in football is wide open and based on the pursuit of excellence, individuals working as a team. The liberal philosophy, if it were applied to football, would be you spend most of your time blaming everybody for why it didn't work.

Conservative offenses are not "wide open" in football, and anyone who would say that just to make a tiresome political joke has no business anywhere near a sports broadcast.

The quote sums up most of the reasons for my personal boycott of Sunday Night Countdown, which will last until Limbaugh takes a much-deserved spot on ESPN's waiver wire. All it needs is a joke about Kobe Bryant and Chelsea Clinton.

This column originally appeared on SportsFilter.

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