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!”