Phil Rosenthal: So this is what an ESPN version of 'Dancing with the Stars' looks likeApril 17, 2018 8:47am

April 16-- Oh, for David Ross' sake, look what in the wide, wide world of sports ABC has done. It looks like an unofficial ESPN edition of "Dancing with the Stars."

ABC has unveiled a field of 10 current or former athletes who will be ballroom blitzing each other beginning April 30. With weekly double eliminations, they'll wrap things up in just four weeks as a prelude to the May 31 start of the NBA Finals.

The target audience, presumably, includes viewers battling sequin withdrawal since the Winter Olympics and anyone who enjoys "30 for 30" films and other sports documentaries but wonders if the people they showcase can mambo and jitterbug.

The producers have recruited basketball great, author and actor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, former baseball player Johnny Damon, Redskins cornerback Josh Norman and former Olympic softball star Jennie Finch Daigle.

Tonya Harding, the one-time Olympian and movie character, is trying yet again to convince everyone she's not as bad as the police reports suggest. (The figure skating rival Harding's entourage sought to cripple in 1994, Nancy Kerrigan, took sixth on the show a year ago, so there's a benchmark for Harding to swing for.)

The NCAA miraculously found its way clear to allow recently crowned women's basketball champion Arike Ogunbowale of Notre Dame to do "DWTS."

This is despite its antediluvian prohibitions on its moneymakers (the NCAA prefers the term "student-athletes") personally benefiting from their fame as athletes the way the NCAA, its member schools and business partners do.

Ogunbowale can keep any prize money she earns. But win or lose, the NCAA intends to keep its rules preserving a form of amateurism even the International Olympic Committee has abandoned.

Then there is a quartet of Team USA medalists from the Pyeongchang Games: endearing figure skater Adam Rippon, snowboarder Jamie Anderson, luger Chris Mazdzer and figure skater Mirai Nagasu, who made no secret in South Korea that competing on "DWTS" was an ambition.

In retrospect, it was only a matter of time before Disney, parent of ESPN and ABC, went with a sports-themed "DWTS." Ten of the 25 winners to date have been athletes, including five of the first eight. Another was once a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.

Nine second-place finishers have been athletes, including the Cubs' Grandpa Rossy last spring, as may have been mentioned once or 200 times when Ross was working as an ESPN MLB analyst last season.

Just last fall, playing off the fantasy sports business ESPN has built for itself, Disney dressed up a viewer contest and prize drawing by calling it the "'Dancing with the Stars Fantasy League."

Then there was "Dance Center," an ESPN "SportsCenter" parody in which "DWTS" judge Len Goodman joined Pro Football Hall of Famer and former "DWTS" winner Jerry Rice and ESPN's Kenny Mayne, whose subpar cha-cha-cha led to a first-week elimination a dozen years ago.

The only real surprise here is there's no announced role yet for personalities ESPN seems eager to promote, such as the "Get Up!" gang of Mike Greenberg, Michelle Beadle and Jalen Rose.

Having Stephen A. Smith, Tony Kornheiser, Michael Wilbon, Katie Nolan and NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. as guest judges might be a draw, even for people who ordinarily have no interest in "DWTS" and those who say they detest ESPN.

A complication for "DWTS" competitors is that, while most if not all top sports figures have, by definition, great athleticism as well as outstanding innate coordination, not all are equipped to meet the multifaceted demands of ballroom dancing.

The Broncos' Von Miller so frustrated professional dance partner Witney Carson in the spring of 2016 that Carson began to fine the All-Pro linebacker $100 for every incidence of flatulence during their practice sessions and performances.

"I'm gonna be so rich by the end of this," Carson told an interviewer as she instituted the policy en route to a seventh-place finish with Miller.

This time around, Carson is paired with Mazdzar. Whether they, too, will need to clear the air-or have the sort of chemistry from which great teams are made-has yet to be seen and heard.

That's why people tune in each week, for what ABC's Jim McKay used to call human drama of athletic competition ... and to see what everyone wears.

___

(c)2018 Chicago Tribune

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