ESPN announced tonight that broadcaster Robert Lee will not call the University of Virginia’s first home football game of the season, as originally planned, “simply because of the coincidence of his name,” which he shares with the Confederate icon.
The story was first reported by the reliably idiotic Clay Travis on his personal blog. He claimed that the network pulled Lee. (An ESPN spokesperson adamantly denied this to Deadspin, describing it as a “mutual conversation” and “mutual decision.” Lee won’t be calling it either way.) For Travis—and for the largely conservative publications that quickly aggregated his coverage, including Breitbart and the Washington Times—it was a sign of ESPN blindly bowing to political-correctness shock troops as a result of illogical liberal paranoia and fears that featuring an Asian-American man onscreen in Charlottesville would somehow read as the network implicitly supporting white supremacy.
The decision seems to be not so much that, but rather something more along the lines of a cynical corporation doing its best to maintain an illusion of being apolitical by trying to distance itself from anything with potential for even quasi-political controversy. Given that the network didn’t appear to publicize the move initially—Lee was moved from the Virginia game to Youngstown State at Pittsburgh without an announcement, as is usually the case with broadcasting crew changes made weeks in advance for low-profile college football games—it would stand to reason that they thought they could just quietly switch the schedule to avoid any issue, however mild, that might arise from sending Robert Lee to Charlottesville less than a month after a white-nationalist rally in the town left three people dead. (USA Today, apparently channeling the Worldwide Leader’s thinking, cited a concern that Robert Lee calling a game in Virginia would be fodder for Twitter memes and blog posts.) It’s hard to imagine the “issue” amounting to more than a few internet jokes, but companies have done more to avoid less.
Now, of course, the network does have an issue on its hands, as there are few things you can be more sure of than that this will be adduced exhaustingly often as proof of a far-left conspiracy to hijack ESPN for the purposes of brainwashing the masses. Meanwhile, Bob Ley probably speaks for many of his colleagues: