Anytime a panel of so-called experts undertakes a project to name “the best” athlete in any kind of category, it inevitably encounters both unbiased and unjust criticism.  

But ESPN’s recent attempt at identifying the Best Female Athlete Ever is at best incomplete without the mention of three-time NHRA champions Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey or Pro Stock champion Erica Enders.

Surely with seven from basketball, six from tennis, five from soccer, and four from swimming gaining recognition, none of those sports would have been slighted if any of the drag-racing history-makers had bumped one or more from the list.

Without naming any names, ESPN’s rather laughable list contains a number of highly questionable choices. And Muldowney, not the first female to get an NHRA license or the first to win an event but certainly the one who shattered stereotypes and made no apologies, resented the snub.

“They left me off the list. They’ve got a lot of nerve. They have a lot of nerve doing something like that,” Muldowney said.

“They don’t get it. I think they’re intimidated by the women in drag racing. We’ve got some women here who really kick some a--. And they don’t want to admit the truth,” she said.

Indeed, more than 100 NHRA trophies have gone to women. Moreover, women haven’t been novelties for decades in drag racing, the most diverse sport in every aspect (gender, race, and age).

Yet ESPN chose to ignore drag-racing’s females. Evidently the company turns its attention to drag-racing women only when soliciting someone to pose nude for its ESPN The Magazine Body Issue.

Never mind that the NHRA has been a longtime client of ESPN. It must not have occurred to the network that the least it could have done for the sport – the one it constantly shoved to undesirable time slots and pre-empted for debatably worthy substitutes – would be to include some of its standouts on the list.

To add insult to insult, the panel included Danica Patrick, hardly an overachiever in either IndyCar or NASCAR and not the first female competitor in either series. Patrick never has won a championship, posted just one IndyCar victory in 115 races, and in NASCAR has posted no victories in 108 races, has no top-five finishes, and never has ranked higher in the final standings than 27th. Her inclusion irked Muldowney.

“Danica Who? That is so ridiculous,” Muldowney said. “They’re going to make her into something if it kills them. All she is is a marketing tool. That’s all she is, nothing but a marketing tool.”

Complicating matters from a basic public-relations standpoint is that ESPN, through its ESPNW platform, conducted a bracketed popularity contest allegedly to determine “the greatest female athletes of all time.” Among the choices were nine names not considered on the 40-best list, proving the thoughtlessness of either project.

As if any more proof were necessary, the winner – the woman voted the top, the greatest, female athlete of all time is . . . drum roll . . . Ronda Rousey.

Really? So the woman can hit, punch, and kick people. It would be smart to hire her as a bodyguard, but to name her the greatest female athlete of all time – for a sport (Mixed Martial Arts) that has been around since 1993 and not particularly popular until today’s social-media hype gave it a mega-boost – is shameful.

That’s not to denigrate Rousey’s physical fitness and strength or her dedication to training. Yes, Rousey was an Olympian, but so were Tanya Harding and Hope Solo. Rousey is an overnight sensation who hasn’t built a body of work strong enough to compare to those of longtime female athletes.     

And the Patrick swipe is not to belittle her effort. But c’mon – “best” and “greatest” are reserved for winners, for significant contributors. She offers no such credentials, although she has unfairly been the target in print of several disrespectful, juvenile male “journalists” (who also need to earn their titles).

The whole exercise is a sham. Then again, Internet contests often are lame and, ultimately, meaningless. Perhaps ESPN and its properties weren’t going for credibility. But if the company wants to command any respect, it should approach such projects with some sense of integrity.

Furthermore, if the top-40 list was meant to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Title IX, as stated, then inclusion should have been the goal.