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Joe Henderson: ESPN changes announcer because of his name? Come on, man!

in Sports/Top Headlines by

People go to sports for escape, entertainment, wagering (hey, it happens), or any number of other reasons. I’ve been around sports all my life and covered a wide variety of them for 40-some years as a newspaper hack.

I love sports.

I haven’t seen it all, but I’ve seen a lot of it and, honestly, I would put the decision by ESPN to remove announcer Robert Lee from the telecast of a University of Virginia football game on Sept. 2 as one of the dumbest moves ever.

Lee was moved to a game between Pittsburgh and Youngstown State after someone at ESPN got the idea that because even though he is an Asian-American, his name mirrors that of a certain Confederate general and some viewers might be offended.

Well, we know what happened in Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia. The rioting between white supremacists and those who opposed them was, oh … you know what it was.

But the university, founded by Thomas Jefferson, is one of the nation’s finest academic institutions. You have to be awfully smart to get in there, and even smarter to graduate.

So, call me crazy, I think the good folks there – no matter their politics – can figure out that the guy on TV calling play-by-play of their football game did not lead an insurgent army in a war to preserve slavery.

I have written in support of removing Confederate monuments, including one right here in Tampa, when they become flash points for racial divide in a community. I also think it’s up to the individual communities to decide how they feel about those things. We have elections so the leaders we empower to decide what is good for the entire community can make a ruling.

See how it works?

ESPN, on the other hand, got way too full of itself on this one and opened the door for everyone who wants to say that all the protesting over monuments and community standards is political correctness run amok.

In a statement, the network said: “We collectively made the decision with Robert to switch games as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name. In that moment it felt right to all parties. It’s a shame that this is even a topic of conversation and we regret that who calls play-by-play for a football game has become an issue.”

It wasn’t an issue until ESPN made it one.

Sports can be a powerful platform for social statements. We’ve seen that play out from out-of-work quarterback Colin Kaepernick to Muhammad Ali and Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

The work done by ESPN college basketball icon Dick Vitale to raise millions for cancer research is laudable. But on this one, ESPN blew it. Or, to use one of its trademark phrases to explain goofy sports moments, “Come on, man!”

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Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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