In one of my columns last year, I confessed to readers that I am a devoted "Dancing With the Stars" fan. I use "confessed" because some of my friends find the television show to be utterly brainless. I don't disagree. But I also find it a refreshing two-hour break from the seemingly endless stream of depressing national and local news: Republicans and Democrats clashing over the federal debt ceiling, rising gas prices, foreign wars and California's ongoing budget crisis.
With Hines Ward, a beloved Pittsburgh Steeler (at least until his drunken driving charge two weeks ago) participating in this year's "DWTS," I was more caught up than ever. And yes, if you're wondering, I texted in my vote for Ward and his partner, Australian Kym Johnson, every week.
But as I watched the 10-week-long show, something troubling surfaced. I noticed that the co-host, previous "DWTS" winner Brooke Burke, and one of the most visible contestants, Kendra Wilkinson, have tawdry backgrounds that aren't totally consistent with good, wholesome family entertainment.
Burke has twice appeared nude in Playboy magazine and been pictured more naked than clothed in several other publications for men. And Wilkinson, introduced to the audience as a "reality television star," is much better known for sharing, along with two other former Playboy Playmates, the same bedroom with Hugh Hefner. After moving out of the Playboy Mansion, Wilkinson's pornographic tapes, featuring her "love" scenes with both men and women, were widely distributed.
I'm not a prude. But I couldn't help but wonder if another co-host from the vast world of television personalities could not have been found to substitute for Burke. As for Wilkinson, I'm confident that "DWTS" could easily have tapped equally recognizable female contestants who didn't have such a a brazen past. In earlier years, "DWTS" participants have included the wholesome Olympic skater Kristi Yamaguchi and Grand Slam tennis champion Monica Seles.
Unfortunately ABC, the "DWTS" producer, is not the only major network guilty of poor judgment when it comes to who fronts their shows.
During the NCAA basketball tournament, presented by CBS and arguably the year's most popular sporting event, I was shocked that Rick Pitino was one of the half-time analysts. No one questions Pitino's ability to analyze basketball. He's the first coach in NCAA history to lead four different teams to the final four, including Providence, Kentucky and the University of Louisville, his current employer. Pitino has also been the head coach at two storied NBA franchises, the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics.
That's all well and good — as far as it goes. But two years ago, Pitino was the central figure in a particularly ugly sex scandal. Pitino, a married man with five children and reportedly a devout Roman Catholic, admitted to having consensual sex with the Louisville equipment manager's wife, Karen Cunagin Sypher.
According to police records, Pitino and Sypher had sex underneath a table at a local restaurant after it closed. Then Sypher told Pitino she was pregnant and attempted to extort millions of dollars from him. In the end, Pitino paid Sypher $3,000, a sum widely believed to have been used for an abortion.
You would have read more juicy details about Pitino-Sypher if Tiger Woods hadn't knocked the story out of the headlines.
CBS had to have Pitino? In the vast arena of college basketball, no other current or retired coaches with less damning resumes are available?
My problem with "DWTS," Burke and Wilkinson is that my 14-year-old Internet-savvy grand daughter watches the show. As for Pitino, he's a bad example for young aspiring players.
With so many others to chose from, ABC and CBS should aim higher.
Joe Guzzardi, who retired from the Lodi Unified School District, now lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.