When programming executives at ESPN came up with the idea to send their main news show on a 50-state tour, they failed to include the one place in the country that is home to the White House, the U.S. Capitol and almost 600,000 residents.
The cable sports network paid for its omission.
The D.C. mayor issued a press release complaining of a monumental dis. A local radio political commentator threatened to call for a boycott of the network. And, yesterday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson jumped into the fray and called an ESPN executive to proclaim the District as worthy of a traveling television show.
By late afternoon, network officials were reconsidering the itinerary, not because of Jackson's phone call, they said, but because of the statement issued last week by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).
"We have been actively looking at ways to include Washington, D.C., and we're in discussions with the mayor to secure a prominent location," said Diane Lamb, an ESPN spokeswoman. In a conversation a few minutes earlier, she had said the network stood by its itinerary.
The show, "SportsCenter," began its 50-state, 50-day odyssey July 17 at Boston's Fenway Park, where the Red Sox played the New York Yankees. Last night, the show used a skydiving contest in Lost Prairie, Mont., as its backdrop.
Producers had planned to highlight the District during stopovers in Virginia and Maryland, an approach that echoed a plan last year by Sports Illustrated to exclude the District from a 50-state sporting tribute. Sports Illustrated ultimately changed its mind.
Then Williams, Jackson and WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin began piping up.
In a letter to the network and in a statement last week, Williams demanded that ESPN reverse its decision, invited "SportsCenter" host Chris Berman on a tour of the city and declared that it was senseless for the show to "invest 70,000 miles on a show about America and sports and yet entirely skip the nation's capital."
Vince Morris, a spokesman for the mayor, said yesterday that ESPN's failure to include the District was insulting to a city already "omitted from many things, including, most importantly, the right to vote in Congress."
"These little snubs add up," he said.
Referring to the network's consideration of an itinerary change, Morris said, "It's a great way to promote the city as a destination."
Jackson learned about the issue yesterday, when Plotkin asked him about it at a news conference on an unrelated matter at the John A. Wilson Building.
Jackson, in an interview later, said he telephoned Mark Shapiro, an ESPN programming executive based at the network's Connecticut headquarters, to tell him that this "was a matter of grave concern in Washington."
"It has its own territorial integrity, and it must be in the mix," Jackson said, adding that Shapiro told him that the network was trying to find a venue from which to host the show.
Jackson said he told Shapiro to contact the mayor's office.
"D.C. becomes to too many people an afterthought," Jackson said. "It's not just where congresspeople work. It's where people live."
Plotkin heaped praise on Jackson for picking up the phone, as opposed to Williams, who wrote a letter to which ESPN did not respond.
"You pick up the phone, you talk to the person in charge and you make it happen, and that's what Jesse Jackson did," Plotkin said.
He described ESPN's snub as "serious and substantive, and every time something like this happens, we should get very angry."
The show is on a 50-state tour that was not scheduled to broadcast from D.C.
"SportCenter" is the sports network's flagship news program.