American sports fans’ long national nightmare is finally over. Yes, ESPN’s "Mount Rushmore of Sports" promotion has finally come to an end.
If you’re wondering, Illinois, with Michael Jordan, Walter Payton, Ernie Banks and Mike Ditka, was voted the best Mount Rushmore of Sports by voters who, according to Rick Reilly, also tried to vote Joe Montana on Montana's Mount Rushmore because of his last name.
I've never understood ESPN's need to create these month-long specials that seem more appropriate for Nickelodeon than SportsCenter. It would be one thing if they were insightful for their core audience of sports junkies, but they usually are nothing more than a vehicle to rehash the accomplishments of players and coaches every sports fan already knows about.
The Mount Rushmore of Sports promotion may have been the worst in the "tell me what I don't already know" department, edging out previously forgettable specials such as Who's Now, Titletown USA, 50 States in 50 Days and The Greatest Highlight with Chris Berman.
The problem with the concept is that it was nothing more than a clichéd sports radio topic. In other words, on a slow news day you can always fall back on asking callers to give you their top four athletes in any sport or any state or any category, for that matter, and easily sail through a day's show based on the ensuing debates that would probably be better served over a couple beers at a sports bar.
Not only was Mount Rushmore of Sports an uninspired topic, it was confusing since there were no real ground rules. Any player or coach could be on any state’s Mount Rushmore, even if he just stopped by for a cup of coffee. Barry Sanders was immortalized by three states, including Kansas, where he only played seven games at running back his senior year in high school and wasn’t even that heavily recruited. Plus, how seriously can you take a list that includes ESPN personalities Brent Musberger and Tom Brennan but not Joe DiMaggio, Joe Montana, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Sandy Koufax or Julius Erving?
If this were simply an online poll, it would be fine. Fans could ignore it like a pop-up ad and move on, but it was on every SportsCenter, which, like it or not, is the premier sports show in America. While every sports league in the country vies for air time on the show, fans were force-fed daily segments on the accomplishments of Jordan, Tiger Woods and Magic Johnson as if they had no idea who they were. Worse yet, the segments were hosted by Reilly, who was reduced to wearing binoculars and a fanny pack in front of the mythical Mount Rushmore and throwing out one-liners on each state's honoree.
The marriage of Reilly, the 11-time sportswriter of the year, and SportsCenter, the most popular sports program on television, should produce something better than this. Maybe ESPN could have gotten the best athletes from each state and had them sit down with Reilly for a series of interviews in a special that fans would actually be interested in. Maybe Reilly could have written an essay on his own personal Mount Rushmore of Sports for a story that would be more insightful than simply glossing over the accomplishments of John Wooden and Jackie Robinson.
To be fair, ESPN does far more good in sports television than it does bad. But if it wants to know why many sports fans and critics have felt alienated over the years, it needs only to look at segments like the Mount Rushmore of Sports, which feed its insatiable need to create news instead of allowing a talented staff to do what it does so well -- report the news.