ESPN and the Shark-Jumping Championship

By Al Perrotta Published on August 25, 2017

In case you missed it, ESPN pre-empted its regular programming this week to bring you the 2017 Shark-Jumping Championships. And surprise, they won!

Yes, ESPN jumped the shark beyond anything ever seen on sports television. At the 1968 Olympics, American Bob Beamon broke the long jump record by two feet. TWO whole feet. Staggering. And still nothing compared to ESPN’s jump. 

ESPN removed a sportscaster from covering next week’s University of Virginia football game. Why? He committed a criminal offense? He said a naughty word on the air? Laryngitis? No. They bumped him because his name happens to be Robert Lee. This Robert Lee has nothing to do with the General Robert E. Lee who the left is now toppling coast-to-coast. For one thing, he hasn’t been dead about 140 years. He’s never commanded an army fighting to protect the institution of slavery. Oh, and he’s Asian.

Mr. Lee could ride into the stadium on a noble grey steed, and nobody would mistake him for General Lee. Yet, he’s now been booted from his originally assigned task.

ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt is next. After all, a white guy with a shaved head named Pelt just screams KKK violence.

ESPN’s Reasoning

ESPN has floated several different reasons for removing Lee from covering UVA vs William & Mary. Initially we got this

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.

This is when America realized this wasn’t an Onion satire. ESPN had “jumped the shark.” That is, it committed an act so desperate and silly it destroys all previous credibility and respect. (To see the origins of the expression, check out the original Happy Days clip where a water-skiing Fonzie leaps over a shark, signalling the pending doom of the once-great sitcom.)

With coast-to-coast laughter ringing in their ears, ESPN tried again. ESPN President John Skipper insisted, “There was never any concern … that Robert Lee’s name would offend anyone watching the Charlottesville game.” No, they were worried that “Robert’s assignment might create a distraction, or even worse, exposing him to social hectoring and trolling.” 

So rather than expose Lee to, at best, five minutes of teasing, ESPN has now earned itself four days of widespread ridicule.

And it’s not like they did Robert Lee any favors. They’re now sending him to cover the Youngstown State vs. Pitt game. In Pennsylvania. “We don’t want to send Robert Lee to Virginia, where Robert E. Lee is still a hero. No, we’re going to send Robert Lee to the same state as Gettysburg.” We all know how well that went for the other Lee. 

It’s such a snowflake move. In fact, it’s so odd it puts the flake in snowflake. (And so politically correct and culturally tone-deaf CNN defended it.)

What next, pulling coverage of the National Spelling Bee because it could upset people who stink at spelling? Dropping the Little League World Series because it’s a dagger to the heart of all the youngsters who didn’t make the team?

What if it catches on? I can see the Dodgers tossing the legendary Vin Scully because he shares the last name of a fictional alien-chasing FBI agent, and heaven knows chasing down any alien — extraterrestrial or illegal — is racist and xenophobic.

ESPN’s Falling

ESPN used to be a sports network. It carried on the fine ABC tradition of bringing “the constant variety of sport.” Now, it echoes the rest of the media in bringing a constant variety of progressive blabber. Just the other day, ESPN’s Max Kellerman was declaring that more white players should join Colin Kaepernick’s protest against the National Anthem.

Even NFL legend and civil rights activist Jim Brown is slapping Kaepernick and cohorts down, declaring “I don’t desecrate my flag and my national anthem.”

Last year, ESPN dumped baseball analyst Curt Schilling because he expressed conservative views. As he told Breitbart’s Steve Bannon at the time, “I’ll always love talking about pitching. I thought I was good at it. But at a company where the rules are different based completely and solely on your perspective and your beliefs, it didn’t work. They didn’t like that.”

Silencing those you disagree with? Maybe next year, ESPN can broadcast the try-outs for Antifa. “Some arm that kid out of Brown has. Able to hit a cop with a brick from 20 yards.”

In any event, the network is getting so progressive it won’t be long before they stop covering sports that give you a Stanley Cup, a Super Bowl ring, or anything other than participation trophies. 

The descent of ESPN into just another liberal mouthpiece has come at a cost. Their ratings are tanking. Ratings for the second quarter dropped another 9%. 2016 saw a dramatic drop in viewership. A study by Deep Root Analytics tied it directly to their increasingly leftist bent. A lot of math, but the conclusion is plain: If your audience skews Republican and you insult Republicans, Republicans aren’t going to want to watch you.

Actually, I don’t even think it’s a partisan thing.

I don’t watch ESPN to get political opinions, no more than I watch HGTV to get stock tips. You watch sports channels to watch sports. You often watch sports to avoid politics, to avoid the troubles of the world. The only lefties I want to hear about are southpaws. The only right-wingers I need see are hockey players.

Sports are the great melting pot where, to paraphrase Dr. King, people are “judged not by the color of their skin” but their ability to handle the run, handle a curve, handle a head-fake. The “Promised Land” King saw from the Mountaintop looked a lot like a ball field.

ESPN should be mindful of that, rather than charging onto the field like a Berkeley marching band tooting “No Justice, No Peace.” They should also remember that “it’s only a game.” Games are ultimately about fun. And if an announcer named Robert Lee is going to get teased for two minutes because of his name, well, that kind of comes with the territory. It’s called “being a good sport.”

Perhaps, ultimately, that’s the real problem and the real tragedy: We’re so set in our ideologies, so devoted to our side, that we no longer know how to be good sports.

And if we, as Americans, forget how to be good sports, then it’s America itself that will have jumped the shark.



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  • Howard Rosenbaum

    If sports is the universal language, why then is ESPN not speaking it …?!!

    • Kevin Carr

      Because they let their politics override the reason the network was started.

  • James Pierce

    “They were worried that “Robert’s assignment might create a distraction, or even worse, exposing him to social hectoring and trolling.”
    What a bunch of baloney. ESPN’s Mr. Lee is an adult and has presumably had his name for his entire life. I’m sure he’s heard all the jokes by now. How very princely of the network to pretend they made this decision to benefit him somehow

  • Howard

    Let’s not pretend that ESPN is alone in this, though. I like to listen to either sports or news as I drive; it helps me stay awake better than music, making it preferable as long as it is not make me react too strongly. At any rate, I listen to about equal parts ESPN radio and Fox Sports radio, and the truth is there is no real difference between the politics of the two organizations. That shouldn’t be a surprise, really, since many of the Fox Sports personalities are former ESPN employees.

    Nor is this anything new. It’s been like this for at least a dozen years, because that’s when I first noticed it from ESPN radio’s Dallas affiliate. Even then, however “bold” and “independent” the commentator, no matter how much his shtick was to “tell it like it is, no matter if you like it or not”, they all toed the same line when it came to matters of politics and culture. That sort of unanimity is not natural. You could probably conduct a poll in New York City and ask if every man, woman, and child in New York City should be killed, and at least 5% would say yes, because there are always people who want to defy expectations — except in places where there is real fear.

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