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The Inside Track | T.J. Simers

Limbaugh Gave ESPN Exactly What It Wanted

October 02, 2003|T.J. Simers

I'm a little surprised about the furor surrounding the stupid comments Rush Limbaugh made on ESPN's "NFL Sunday Countdown" last weekend, and shocked to discover he has opted to muzzle himself.

By now you probably know Limbaugh said Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb received credit for the Eagles' success in the past that he shouldn't have received from the media, only because McNabb is black.

If something like that were really true, shoot, you'd have people like Dodger General Manager Dan Evans asking themselves right now, "Why wasn't I born black?"

So everyone knows it was a stupid statement, a racist remark that invites condemnation, controversy and attention -- a touchdown, if you will, for ESPN.

Isn't that why ESPN hired Limbaugh? To spice up its Sunday morning NFL show and say something outrageous? In fact ESPN responded to the Limbaugh uproar by letting everyone know right away the ratings on Sunday mornings have increased 10%, and that was before this flap.

Instead of calling on a blowhard to save the day, Fox and Monday night TV executives elected to go with sex, and I want to make it clear I have no problem with that. Jillian Barberie is part of the Fox Sunday morning NFL show, and Lisa Guerrero has been walking the "Monday Night Football" sidelines, and while on occasion one of them might say something stupid and draw more attention, that's considered a bonus.

At first blush, it appeared as if Limbaugh had exceeded ESPN's wildest ratings' wishes, and said something so stupid that Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark was drawing national attention to ESPN's pregame NFL coverage with the suggestion that ESPN fire Limbaugh.

Well, I knew there was no way ESPN was going to fire someone for simply saying something stupid, or imagine the problem it would have trying to explain why Max Kellerman is still employed.

I know from experience that the foundation of ESPN's "Around the Horn" is having sportswriters top each other by saying something stupid. The more stupid-sounding the columnist, the more often they get to appear on the show, which explains, I guess, why the guy from Chicago is on every day.

As you know, I had the qualifications to be on that show for a long time, but I was fired -- not for running out of stupid things to say, but for calling the show stupid. If Rush doesn't call "Countdown" the worst NFL pregame show on TV, I had ESPN pegged to reward him with a show of his own, maybe the "White Playmakers."

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WHAT A strange twist. Wednesday night Limbaugh, who works by day for the "Excellence in Broadcasting" network, resigned from the football show, saying he didn't want to be a distraction. Now that's funny, when you consider that was the strongest quality he brought to the show.

I can only imagine the shiver his resignation will send to folks working on sports talk radio, Fox and ESPN around the country. If this catches on -- you say something stupid and you have to quit -- we might all be listening to music again.

Of course, there really are two issues working here. The first one is easy, and if we're looking at a racist caught in the act, tighten that muzzle.

But there's much more here. It's stupid is as stupid does. We now have sports talk radio, Fox and ESPN trying hourly to keep up with sports fans, who are hungry for smack talk, and there just isn't enough dumb talk to carry the day.

I, for one, applaud Limbaugh's attempt to fill that void.

But the boundaries of good taste are going to be blurred further, and just remember, ESPN was one resignation shy of pulling it off and making its Sunday morning football show must-see TV.

*

I HATE the sport of boxing, but here's how I spent my Wednesday:

* Had lunch with Shane Mosley and his engaging wife, Jin. Right away it became apparent who wears the gloves in that family. Asked about the $500,000 Oscar De La Hoya promised to pay Mosley if Mosley won, Shane said, "I wasn't worried about getting it." Jin interrupted to say, "I was. I wanted it." And she got it.

* Got a call from Amy Hayes. Had no idea who she was until she told me she was the female version of ring announcer Michael Buffer, appeared in a Playboy pictorial last year, and will be in Las Vegas this weekend as part of the hoopla surrounding the Holyfield-Toney fight. "I don't know why," she said, "but I was supposed to call you." We never did figure out why.

* Got another call from a boxing flack telling me he had the funniest comedian in town on the line. I said, "George Lopez?" only to discover it was Paul Rodriguez, who wanted to talk about the four bouts Saturday night at Staples Center. "Are you going to be there?" I asked him. "I'll be there later after I appear at Playboy's 50th anniversary special at the Mansion." I'd like someone to call me or e-mail Sunday, and let me know whether Rodriguez ever shows up at Staples.

* Rodriguez picked Erik Morales to whip Guty Espadas in the Staples main event, and said Steve Forbes "lost it while trying to beat Bush out to become president, and while it's amazing a rich guy like that would be still fighting for the little people," Rodriguez thinks he'll lose to Carlos Hernandez. "It should be a great night," he said, "although I think the best fights will be in the parking lot."

* By the way, if Page 2 doesn't make it to Saturday's fights at Staples -- no telling how late things will go at the Playboy Mansion -- I'd like someone to call me or e-mail Sunday to make sure Bob Arum hands over a $5,000 check to the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund as he has promised.

*

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com

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