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SPORTS WEEKEND | TV-RADIO

Irvin Is Seeking Refuge in a Fox Hole

August 11, 2000|LARRY STEWART

On July 11, Michael Irvin, 34, announced his retirement from football and was hired as a studio commentator by Fox Sports Net.

On Tuesday, Kevin Johnson, 34, announced his retirement from basketball and was hired as a studio commentator by NBC.

On Wednesday, Johnson, an advocate of bipartisan politics, had a one-on-one meeting with President Clinton at the White House.

Also on Wednesday, Irvin was found by drug agents in a north Dallas apartment with a 21-year-old woman, Nelly Adham. The agents, there to serve a warrant to another woman, found two ounces of marijuana. Irvin, who five weeks ago completed his probation on a 1996 felony drug charge, was arrested again.

Do you see a contrast here? Do you think NBC made a slightly better hire than Fox?

You have to wonder what the Fox cable people were thinking. Was their only concern Irvin's marquee value and that he had caught 750 passes for the Dallas Cowboys? Didn't his rap sheet count for something?

Most employers would shy away from someone who was busted in a motel room with two prostitutes and cocaine, as was the case with Irvin in 1996.

On the police custody report after his arrest this week, Irvin listed his occupation as "broadcaster" and his employer as "Fox." Fox isn't commenting on Irvin's job status, but you can bet that the Fox PR machine is trying to figure out how to get out of this mess gracefully.

Fox finds itself in a real hole. It seems all Fox can do is say that, after careful consideration, it has decided Irvin was not the ideal person for the job.

KJ AND THE PRESIDENT

After NBC announced it had hired Johnson as Isiah Thomas' replacement for "NBA Showtime," a publicist offered a one-on-one interview. The next day, Johnson called three times before a connection was made. Most former professional athletes would call once, figuring they had done their job.

Johnson talked about how NBC had done a feature on him during the Phoenix Suns' playoff series with the Lakers and then, after the Suns were eliminated, asked him to work in-studio as a guest analyst for a couple of games. That led to his getting the full-time job.

Toward the end of the interview, Johnson, who was in Washington, mentioned he had an important meeting in two hours. It was a one-on-one with the President.

"We met at a Democratic fund-raiser in Phoenix on June 22," Johnson explained.

At the fund-raiser, put on by Sun owner Jerry Colangelo, Clinton invited Johnson to the White House.

"Since I never played on an NBA championship team, this is my first invitation to the White House."

Johnson called again Thursday. He was back home in Phoenix but still sky high over his experiences in Washington the day before.

"What was neat was when the security people asked if I was there for a tour or something like that, I could say, 'I have an appointment with the President.'

"We met in the Oval Office. It was unbelievable. I don't want to say for how long because that would ruin the story, but afterward he invited me to walk with him through the Rose Garden to the East Wing and attend the Medals of Freedom presentation."

"Too bad I don't have a class to go to for a show-and-tell," Johnson said.

Johnson said he attended the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia and will be in Los Angeles for the Democratic National Convention next week.

Johnson said he has no plans to enter the political arena, but that could change. He has been honored for his work with underprivileged children and his citizenship in general. The only blemish on his record is a 1995 accusation of sexual misconduct by a teenage girl with a history of mental problems. No charges were filed.

As for Irvin's most recent blemish, Johnson, always the diplomat, said, "You just hope it's a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and give him the benefit of doubt."

SHORT WAVES

Orel Hershiser will work with Brent Musburger on selected Little League World Series telecasts beginning next week on ESPN and ESPN2, and they'll be joined by Harold Reynolds for the championship game Aug. 26 on ABC. . . . Sunday is the fifth anniversary of Mickey Mantle's death, and ESPN Classic is paying tribute with a "SportsCentury" profile today at 5 p.m. and a seven-hour tribute Sunday, beginning at 6 a.m. . . . When Fox televises the Dodgers and Chicago Cubs from Wrigley Field Aug. 26, it will turn back the clock to commemorate the first baseball telecast on Aug. 26, 1939. Fox will show how baseball telecasts have evolved over the years.

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