ESPN president John Skipper sent a memo to staff today in response to the public relations fiasco that has unfurled in the wake of the network’s decision to move broadcaster Robert Lee off the University of Virginia’s home opener. Per Skipper’s account of things, the switch wasn’t made out of fear that viewers might be offended, but rather out of fear that they might be distracted or (even worse) engage in “social hectoring and trolling”:
“Given the amount of media attention being generated by one of the countless, routine decisions our local production teams make every day, I wanted to make sure you have the facts. There was never any concern - by anyone, at any level – that Robert Lee’s name would offend anyone watching the Charlottesville game.
Among our Charlotte production staff there was a question as to whether – in these divisive times — Robert’s assignment might create a distraction, or even worse, expose him to social hectoring and trolling. Since Robert was their primary concern, they consulted with him directly. He expressed some personal trepidation about the assignment and, when offered the chance to do the Youngstown State/Pitt game instead, opted for that game — in part because he lives in Albany and would be able to get home to his family on Saturday evening.
I’m disappointed that the good intentions of our Charlotte colleagues have been intentionally hijacked by someone with a personal agenda, and sincerely appreciate Robert’s personal input and professionalism throughout this episode.”
ESPN has maintained throughout that the decision was made in consultation with Lee; this memo offers a bit of elaboration on that point. But there’s not really any amount of damage control that the network can do at this point to salvage a narrative of political correctness gone amok that has now run completely away from them.