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I have to be honest, when I saw a story floating around the internet claiming that ESPN had switched a commentator for a college football game to an assignment away from Virginia because his name was Robert Lee – the same first and last name of a famous Confederate Civil War General – I thought it had to be a humorous news story from the Onion.
I mean, I know we are living in sensitive times, but there’s no way anybody could think an Asian broadcaster born more than a century after the civil war ended could evoke a problem announcing a football game just because his name was similar to a Confederate General, right?
Apparently, I was wrong.
Amazingly, the story WAS true and ESPN even issues a statement about it, claiming they were afraid people would have made fun of the name similarity on social media.
Seriously? That’s a reason for switching an announcer’s assignment? We are now at the point where fear of social media jokes is legitimate in this context?
I realize this whole thing is trivial and doesn’t really matter in a vacuum, but it is the broader context that makes it a problem.
If ESPN was willing to make a move like this to avoid social media jokes – or more likely because they somehow feared it would be “insensitive” to have an announcer named Robert Lee call that game – then what is next? If a guy bears a slight resemblance to a well-known criminal, terrorist, white supremacist, etc…… does he get reassigned or outright left off an assignment because the network fears some people might be upset by seeing his face? I could use a bunch of other likewise silly examples, but I think you get the point.
There is nothing wrong with being sensitive to people’s concerns. But when that sensitivity lands you in the realm of oversensitive or even absurd, it is time to stop and re-evaluate what you are doing.
This story was leaked to Outkick the Coverage’s Clay Travis and was clearly never meant to go public, but it did.
And if ESPN is smart, they will learn a lesson from it.
That lesson? Sometimes it is best not to overthink and overcomplicate things that should be simple. Because doing so could lead to people being subject to reassignments or worse for no good reason and in the name of doing “good” you actually end up being ridiculous or worse. This time it was just an announcer being foolishly switched off of a game. Next time? Who knows. But let’s just hope this serves as a wake-up call to ESPN before it does indeed lead to something far worse for somebody who doesn’t deserve the consequences next time.