Ten thoughts on ESPN's strange decision to take broadcaster Robert Lee off a Virginia football broadcast:
1. The primary reason this decision was made was to avoid a backlash -- but it happened anyway. According to Dan Wolken at USA Today, ESPN took broadcaster Robert Lee -- a promising, but still relatively obscure, young announcer who now, through absolutely zero fault of his own, is going to have to deal with this dumb incident the rest of his career -- because the network worried it would show up in Twitter memes and posts on websites like Awful Announcing and Deadspin.
Just received this email from an ESPN executive re the Robert Lee controversy. pic.twitter.com/OuBORlWO9f- Yashar Ali (@yashar) August 23, 2017
2. It is highly unlikely that would have happened. It's been quite a few years since I was in the daily blogging game, but "there's a guy named Robert Lee broadcasting a Virginia football game!" is a post so lame I can't imagine any site worth its salt running it. Anyone who thought they were being clever pointing that out, I'd argue, would be mocked in a similar fashion to the way ESPN is being mocked right now.
3. ESPN wasn't being "politically correct." They were just being corporate. The phrase "political correctness" has been morphed and twisted to the point of meaninglessness. The action that some mock as "political correctness" is less about "being political" and more about "not being a thoughtless rude jerk." No reasonable person ever says, "I'm about to be politically correct," unless they are purposely mocking the practice they have decided to use for their own rhetorical purposes. Here's a way to think about what is inaccurately described as "political correctness:" Is what you are saying needlessly hurtful? Are you just saying it because you are resistant to change, or because you are resistant to understanding how someone different than you might see the world? Are you just saying it to get high-fives from people who choose to see the world just like you do? You are not being "politically incorrect." You're just being a jerk. Let's not confuse the two.
It is worth noting that ESPN was not even trying to be "politically correct" in this sense. The decision-makers just thought, "How can we make sure we don't get yelled at by our bosses because people might make fun of us on a Saturday afternoon?" The issue for ESPN here isn't "political correctness." It's rabbit ears.
4. Someone at ESPN reads Breitbart. The logical response to hearing that ESPN did this is to think, "Well, that's stupid." But it requires a specific sort of tunnel vision to see it as "MSESPN's liberal agenda!" Someone who knew about this minor, never-would-have-otherwise-been-noticed decision -- after all, under ordinary circumstances, you probably wouldn't notice if the William & Mary-Virginia game were broadcast by large dog, or a marmoset -- heard it and thought, "Part of ESPN's liberal FAKE NEWS agenda! I knew it! I now have proof!" And this person knew just the guy to turn to.
5. Clay Travis has clearly lost his mind. There has long been a school of thought that Clay Travis, who used to write about college football for Fox Sports but now mostly talks about globalist cucks and head lice, is actually a smart person who has decided that the way he can advance his personal brand is to try to become the Sean Hannity of sports and appeal to a select, but stubbornly, resolutely focused, sliver of the sports fan audience. As someone who has worked with Travis in the past, briefly at both Deadspin and Fox Sports 1, and found him mostly affable and effusive in person, let me humbly submit that if Travis' "Sean Hannity of sports" schtick began as an act, the artist and performance have since merged into an unrecognizable singularity. He's more Pepe the Frog than man now.
In a post on Outkick the Coverage that "broke" this "story" -- please do not be distracted by the ads for Outkick the Coverage; there might be some for Infowars-esque Outkick Super Male Vitality Drops by the time this is published -- Travis breathlessly screams about "MSESPN!" and their desire to avoid "offending left wing idiots." This is Travis' game, of course, and he is surely doing a victory lap today, having uncovered the vast, left-wing ESPN agenda he has convinced himself to be real. But let's not forget that he's the one who did the framing on this. What Travis believes to be a liberal conspiracy, a normal person might see as "a big corporation not really understanding social media well and doing something stupid they mistakenly thought would remain privately stupid, as a result." Turning this into a political issue benefits Travis -- it gets him on Breitbart and allows him to beg Skip Bayless to have him on his show -- but is not actually what is so funny and ridiculous about this. Travis has invested so much of his personal and professional capital in "guy who tells the TRUTH about the liberal media AGENDA" that it's all he can see. He's a hammer who thinks the whole world is a nail, the lone truth teller in a world full of cucks. Sign up for VIP Membership. Get a Free T-Shirt!
6. ESPN did not lay off a lot of people months ago because conservatives stopped watching the channel. We've been through this, but I feel obliged to bring it up again because it will surely pop up in the comments. Your deep insistence that this is true does not in fact make it true.
7. ESPN isn't institutionally liberal. ESPN is part of a massive corporation whose goal is to make money. It is not trying to convert your children to godlessness. There are many talented people at ESPN, even after the layoffs, and they will continue to do great work. But the only reason the network does anything is to increase viewers and make money. Currently, it's in the interest of Fox Sports and Breitbart personalities to pretend that ESPN -- and CNN, and CBS, and The New York Times, and whoever else might happen to say something they believe they can exploit -- has some wide-ranging, institutional "liberal" bias. If ESPN decided to become an overtly conservative network and website in the next six months, you'd start seeing competitors give Keith Olbermann a counterprogramming show within weeks. It's all just a way to make yourself stand out when you are otherwise not doing so.
8. People who work in sports, players, coaches, media, at their core … they don't want sports to be about politics. There are obviously exceptions to this. But 10 years ago, the only sportswriter whose politics I personally knew was Dave Zirin. Now I often have to remind myself Molly Knight and Jonah Keri still write about sports sometimes. (And I love those two! And Dave! Hugs!) The world has evolved, and the way we discuss social issues has evolved, and staying out of that world is no longer an option. But this is still, I'd argue, not the strike zone for sports media personalities. If it were, they would have gone into, you know, political writing. Sports will never be independent from politics. But at its core, we all wish it could be. We love sports as adults because we loved sports as kids, and when you're a kid, politics has no place in your life at all. (If our parents can help it, anyway.) Every sportswriter, even if they are politically passionate, loves talking about sports, just sports, at their core. You don't go into sports journalism to advance a political agenda. You go into politics for that.
That's all to say: The best way to really get a sportswriter fired up is to ask them about their favorite player growing up, or "Game of Thrones." Politics are a part of sports. Discussion of them have a place, a central place, in sports. But the idea that that's what sports media thinks of first is absurd.
9. This is exactly the sort of incident that makes things worse. This is of course what Travis did so skillfully: He turned this dumb incident into yet another thing we're all yelling at each other about. Again.
10. Remember: Eventually the games will start and you will forget all about this. This is the secret of every sports TV talking head (and sports journalist, really): They're just filling time until a game comes on. Nobody watches sports television for Stephen A. Smith or Skip Bayless or Bill Simmons or Mike Tirico. They can, maybe, augment our enjoyment of the game, but all that matters are the games. They're the only reason any of us watch, and the only reason any of this exists. Everything else is just filler, us bringing our own junk to a situation in which they do not apply. Fans like games. This media stuff is just media people talking to each other. When you are watching a game, that's the only thing that matters.
Except for the William & Mary-Virginia game. Nobody's watching that game.
The point is: This was simply a dumb incident, a massive corporation trying to corral something it does not, still, entirely understand. Beware those trying to spin it as anything more than the silly, doofus thing that it is. They are trying to sell you something. Don't buy it, don't buy any of it. But do buy some of those Outkick Super Male Vitality drops. In this time of uncertainty and strife, one can never be too careful, or too prepared.
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