(Somewhere recently in a back office at ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn., the following conversation or something similar was had.)
ESPN executive No. 1: “OK, so who we got on play-by-play for the Virginia and William and Mary football game on Sept. 2?”
ESPN executive No. 2: “Hmmm, let’s see, that would be Robert Lee.”
ESPN executive No. 1: “No, seriously.”
ESPN executive No. 2: “Seriously.”
ESPN executive No. 1: “Not funny.”
ESPN executive No. 2: “Not trying to be. It’s Robert Lee doing the play-by-play.”
ESPN executive No. 1: “You see the problem? The game is in Richmond, Virginia. Remember what happened in Richmond on Aug. 12?”
ESPN executive No. 2: “Oh crap.”
You know the story now.
ESPN, which is trying to put a smiley face on a public-relations disaster, is saying the decision to pull Lee — he goes by the nickname “General,” which we would never think to make up — from working the Richmond game was mutual, an effort to keep him from being the butt of the joke.
That worked. ESPN is now the butt of the joke.
Did we mention this Robert Lee is Asian-American? Not exactly kin to the Confederate general who is now under renewed attack.
But what if he were Gen. Robert E. Lee’s great-great-great-great-grandson? Our position would be the same. Doesn’t matter.
So to review, someone at ESPN decided that having a guy named Robert Lee working a football game in Richmond, Virginia, so close to Aug. 12 would somehow be something the public could not help but ridicule, and presumably this Robert Lee is too much of a snowflake that he had to be pulled and protected. Yet he covers football.
ESPN pulled the victim card, issuing the following statement: “This wasn’t about offending anyone. It was about the reasonable possibility that because of his name he would be subjected to memes and jokes and who knows what else. Think about it. Robert Lee comes to town to do a game in Charlottesville. No politically correct efforts. No race issues. Just trying to be supportive of a young guy who felt it best to avoid the potential zoo.”
This, folks, is the slippery slope we warned about in this space when we first spoke of the Confederate monument on the Robeson County courthouse whose days are surely numbered.
Who is the arbiter? Who determines what is OK, what comes close to the line, and what crosses it?
If you haven’t noticed, and it’s likely you have, Confederate monuments across the nation are coming down, being relocated and even covered by shrouds. That will continue, and truthfully, it’s increasingly difficult to defend their presence in the public square. Put them on an historical site and provide context.
But it only begins there. Already there is conversation about taking down monuments of Christopher Columbus and renaming the capital of Ohio because the Italian explorer who stumbled upon the New World is unworthy of being honored because of all that has unfolded since 1492. Columbus might have been lost, but a coward he was not. Half the world was sure he and the Santa Maria, Pinta and Nina would plunge off the edge of the Earth.
Someone even vandalized a statue of Abraham Lincoln. We think police should look for a personwho flunked history, cause Ol’ Abe is on the right side of it.
This country is on the front end of what will become an unending effort to denude this country of anything that some person somewhere might fight offensive. We don’t know where it will end, but doubt it will be soon.