By Jim Weber
As someone who grew up in Washington, D.C., I remember how great Mark May was as a football player. Unfortunately, since becoming the Skip Bayless of college football, I feel like one of the few who remembers his legendary football career as May’s legacy increasingly becomes that of a television hack.
For those too young to remember, May was a God in our nation’s capital during the 1980s – as was the rest of the Washington Redskins’ massive offensive line, nicknamed “The Hogs” – who helped pave the way for three Redskins’ Super Bowls (May was a part of two). Named one of the 70 Greatest Redskins ever, May’s legacy is even greater at his alma mater of Pitt. There, he earned the nickname “May Day” for his dominance and became the Panthers’ only Outland Trophy winner.
It appeared May’s legacy as a football legend was etched in stone – that is, until May’s heel turn on ESPN, which most recently was exhibited last week when he obnoxiously declared Ohio State should not be a preseason Top 10 team despite going undefeated last fall.
May joined ESPN as a college football analyst in 2001 but was actually the (relatively) sensible one when compared to his partner on the set, Trev Alberts. It was Alberts, not May, who was despised by college football fans for his arrogance, bold proclamations that were often incorrect and incessant pot stirring. When I interviewed Alberts several years ago, he implicitly admitted that his ESPN character was a gimmick for the network by comparing work in television to theater.
When Alberts was fired in 2005 and was replaced by Lou Holtz on the studio broadcast, May picked up where Alberts left off as the heel of college football analysts. While I have no proof of this, it sure felt like the higher ups in Bristol instructed May to take over Alberts’ role as Public Enemy No. 1 for ratings purposes. This is the same company, after all, that has turned its network into the “Sports Debate Channel” and shoved the reviled “First Take” duo of Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith down our throats.
May now positions himself as the college football analyst who calls it like it is, but it’s really just a cover for pissing on teams and their fans to get a rise out of people, just like Bayless. May is an infamous Ohio State and Notre Dame hater, but he doesn’t just troll those fanbases. He gets a thrill out of inciting hatred from everyone.
Just take a look at some of his recent Facebook posts that feign insight but are actually just childish inflammatory barbs:
They are the equivalent of a WWE villain putting a hand to his ear as the boos rain down and the kinds of comments you expect to find in the comments section of ESPN.com, not from one of the network’s analysts.
This isn’t to say May should stop being opinionated or care about being liked. His colleague Kirk Herbstreit is opinionated and, in the process, became a traitor to several Buck Nuts for openly criticizing Ohio State on multiple occasions. But the difference between May and Herbstreit is that the latter is universally respected in the industry as one of the best analysts in sports while the former has reduced himself to a shock jock and a caricature of an analyst.
So while Herbstreit was a very marginal college football player who has made a legacy for himself as a great college football analyst, May just continues to tarnish his spectacular football career by further ingraining himself into people’s memories as an unbearable analyst.
For May’s sake, I hope tarnishing his own legacy for the sake of playing a TV villain is worth it.