When you have a hard time distinguishing between a ludicrous late-night comedy sketch and a game on ESPN, you know that things are out of hand.
This Tuesday, the website "Outkick the Coverage" ran this story: "MSESPN Pulls Asian Announcer Named Robert Lee Off UVA Game To Avoid Offending Idiots." The reporter, Clay Travis, broke the news that ESPN had reassigned announcer Robert Lee from the opening football game to be held in Charlottesville, Virginia, between the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary, to the Youngstown State at Pittsburgh game.
The reason for the change? The announcer's name: Robert Lee, evidently too close to the name of the Confederate general, Robert E. Lee.
In an update on the site later in the day, Outkick published the official ESPN statement: "We collectively made the decision with Robert to switch games as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name. In that moment it felt right to all parties. It's a shame that this is even a topic of conversation and we regret that who calls play-by-play for a football game has become an issue."
The reason it's a topic of conversation is that the ESPN decision is truly mind-boggling. Moving an announcer because of his name? Yes, I, too, thought it was a joke when I first read the headline.
"In a story that seems made for The Onion, but is actually true, according to multiple Outkick fans inside ESPN," wrote Travis, "MSESPN decided to pull an Asian [American] college football announcer named Robert Lee off the William and Mary at University of Virginia college football game because they were concerned that having an ASIAN FOOTBALL ANNOUNCER NAMED ROBERT LEE would be offensive to some viewers."
Travis mused that ESPN must "believe people are this dumb or that having an Asian announcer named Robert Lee is too offensive for the average TV viewer to handle."
Many of those college football fans have been waiting for a new season since the end of the 2016 season when the Clemson Tigers' walk-on wide receiver, Hunter Renfrow, caught a pass from Deshaun Watson with one second left in the game to win 35-31 over Alabama. For them, this distraction from the sport must appear ludicrous. Many viewers look at this all-American sport as a chance to focus on teamwork and outcomes rather than politics.
It's a way to escape the ongoing realities of our lives.
The game itself is physically demanding and aggressive. For the networks to be so worried about offending the delicate sensibilities of their viewers is laughable.
As Brian Stelter wrote on CNN Money, "By trying to avoid an embarrassing ordeal, ESPN has embarrassed itself ... the network confirmed that its management moved an Asian-American announcer, Robert Lee, off the University of Virginia's home opener football game 'simply because of the coincidence of his name.'"
It is possible there could have simply been a disclaimer that scrolled on the bottom of the screen during the game, clarifying for any confused viewers noting, as Travis wrote, that "the Asian man on the right is not long deceased Confederate General Robert E. Lee. He's a different person entirely, one that is still alive and did not fight in the Civil War."
There may be a good side to all this: As the reactions to possible reactions become more ludicrous, maybe we will stop worrying so much about offending other people and quit being so offended ourselves.
It reminds me of the strategy on how to win against a team of two: Create an argument between the two, step back, and let them beat each other up and do the work for you. Just a bit of patience and you can win simply by begin igniting a spark. If they are instead able to put the spark out -- and join together -- well, then it's a different story.
Maybe, if we recognize that these are simply distractions driven by those who don't want to talk about policies and progress, we can instead figure out a way to work together and create a better country for all Americans.