An editorial piece by a former ESPN executive defends the sports network’s decision to remove Asian broadcaster Robert Lee from covering the University of Virginia season opener because of his name. The op-ed says the decision is “not unreasonable in today’s America.”
“We want to pretend that sports are a safe sanctuary from the world’s ugly problems, but that has always been a farce,” former ESPN Vice President Roxanne Jones wrote on CNN. Truth is, not even the glorious game of football can keep America’s toxic culture of bigotry, hate and violence at bay. It’s just too heavy a burden.”
Her comments follow her former employer’s decision to remove Asian broadcaster Robert Lee from covering the William and Mary College vs. University of Virginia football game simply because his name resembles that of the late Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
“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,” ESPN officials disclosed Tuesday night in a statement obtained from ESPN spokesman Derek Volner. “In that moment it felt right to all parties.”
“No politically correct efforts. No race issues,” ESPN continued. “Just trying to be supportive of a young guy who felt it best to avoid the potential zoo.”
In the 24 hours since the news of ESPN’s decision, news networks and talk radio shows mocked the sports networks decision as “political correctness gone mad.”
Jones rebutted the criticism, writing:
So imagine if you’re scheduled to be the announcer for ESPN’s livestream of the University of Virginia’s season-opener football game against William and Mary in a few weeks and your name is Robert Lee. But you have watched, along with the world, as thousands of torch-wielding, white supremacists screaming hate-filled chants marched around the UVA campus and rallied all their hate at the foot of a statue bearing your name: Robert Lee. A monument the city had voted to remove under state objections. Well, it’s not unreasonable, even though you are Asian-American, that you — and your employer — may have some concerns.
Nope, not unreasonable at all. Not in today’s America. Not when we just witnessed heavily armed, swastika-wearing protesters who believe in white supremacy clashing in the streets with counterprotesters, who believed just as passionately that all people are created equal. Not when one woman is dead and dozens more injured because they had the audacity to stand up to the failed notion of white supremacy. Not when a statue, or a team name, or a presidential tweet can incite racial tensions and violence.
No matter that Robert Lee is Asian-American and his name has nothing to do with the Confederacy or slavery. It seems unreasonable, ignorant and downright ridiculous to associate his name in any way with the Confederate general. Still, nothing we’ve witnessed in Charlottesville, or since, has been reasonable or intelligent.
Jones went on to attack the issue of Confederate statues, calling them “symbols of oppression, hate, and the whitewashing of history, and tied the current tensions over police brutality and immigration.
She concludes her defense of her former employer claiming “ESPN decided to avoid evoking the chaos during a live broadcast. Robert Lee decided he just wanted to do his job, which is to broadcast a livestream of a college football game.”
She quoted an ESPN executive saying, “Let’s not go to the zoo if we don’t have to go to the zoo.”
“Good call,” Jones says. “Life is crazy enough already.”