It's tough to overlook tonight's ESPY awards


It seems, as Tony Danza tells it, that the rich and the famous are not so very different from you and me.

They get geeked up over being around famous athletes, and that's why so many entertainers sign on for duty as presenters for the ESPY awards, which are handed out tonight at New York's Radio City Music Hall (8 o'clock, ESPN).

"It's kind of the melding of sports and entertainment. It's a different mix. It's why the Golden Globes are so much fun, because everybody's there," said Danza, who will be host for this year's show, the fourth of its kind.

In case you have missed ESPN's subtle-as-a-sledgehammer promotional campaign, the awards honor performances, moments and the athletes who contributed to them in more than 30 categories in voting conducted among the media, fans, front-office personnel and the athletes themselves.

The network is sparing no expense to position the ESPYs as a viable awards entity, on the scale of say, the Emmys, the Grammys and, of course, the People's Choice awards, with a star-studded presenter lineup that includes such show-biz notables as Dennis Hopper, Timothy Hutton, Ann-Margret, Janine Turner, Kevin Nealon and Adam Sandler.

And in case these few words don't get you geeked up for everything ESPY, ESPN has pre-game and post-game shows planned for tonight, at 7:30 and 10:30, respectively. And if root canal or some other task keeps you away from ESPY mania tonight, fear not, for the show will be replayed three times in the next two days, and on ABC on March 9.

Fantastic 'Journey'

When Time-Warner Sports CEO Seth Abraham says that his company has become "very adept at telling stories," the line is delivered with a little puffery, but a lot of truth, as the latest HBO masterpiece, the two-part "Journey of the African-American Athlete" shows.

The first hour, which debuts tonight at 10, is a brilliant telling of the early struggles and triumphs of the black athlete through the words of those who lived them, during a period from 1875 to 1950.

The viewer not only hears the stories he is familiar with, such as those of Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis and Jesse Owens, but the unfamiliar, such as how blacks dominated the early years of horse racing and cycling, how the long-forgotten "Fritz" Pollard cracked the NFL's color line and how boxer Jack Johnson not only dominated his sport, but also flouted the rules of society.

Narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, and written by New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden, a former Sun reporter, the documentary is an offshoot of the excellent book series from the late Arthur Ashe, who is an integral part of the second part, which debuts at the same time next Monday.

As with most HBO projects, this is true must-see and must-tape TV.

End the name game

The settlement reached in Chicago that left the name Browns and their colors in Cleveland gives Baltimoreans the chance to christen their new NFL team their own way, and that's neat in theory.

In reality, listening to three hours of people tossing out their, to be charitable, half-baked ideas for names and colors on the radio is as interesting as watching paint dry. So, here's a request to all the city's talk shows: Stop the madness and give the name game a real rest.

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