ESPN’s “Robert Lee” Incident Only Latest Example of PC Absurdity

By now, many people both in and out of the sports world are familiar with the controversy surrounding broadcaster Robert Lee. In short, the recent rallies in Charlottesville, VA have caused ESPN to pull Lee from working Virginia’s game against William and Mary due to his name being the same as the most famous general of the Confederacy. As surprising as this move may be to some, it is simply another example of the rampant political correctness that accompanies both ESPN and most of the sports media. So let’s take a stroll through some (though certainly not all) recent events highlighting just how deep the plague of PC has infected the sports culture in America.

(2006) Don Haskins was not a Social Justice Warrior.

In the movie Glory Road (produced by Disney, parent company of ESPN), the day before Texas Western’s National Championship game against Kentucky, there is a scene where coach Haskins gathers his players on the bleachers for a pre-game talk. In that talk, Haskins vows to “put a stop” to the race based criticism of his team. He states that he will accomplish this by only playing the black players who were on his team in the championship game. Five would start and two would be subbed in off of the bench. The non-black players wouldn’t play in the game at all.

This speech that Haskins gave his team never actually happened in real life. Texas Western had been starting an all-black five for the entire season. So the starters for the championship game weren’t chosen on the basis of an attempt to triumph over bigotry or affect social tolerance. Haskins, like every other coach of any other team, was just trying to win games. When asked about the race of his starters, Haskins downplayed the social significance of what he had done by saying “I really didn’t think about starting five black guys. I just wanted to put my five best guys on the court.” It just so happened that all five of his best guys were black. In the true story, the players who were able to start for the 1966 championship team were able to achieve that status purely on their own merits. But in the movie, that accomplishment is tainted by the desire of a coach trying to advance a social agenda. By creating a motivation to conquer racism as the primary goal for the team’s coach, the film undercuts the talent necessary to become a starter and makes it more about factors outside the court than on it.

(2008) Does talking about Mexicans picking up dry-cleaning actually offend anyone?

On ESPN’s Monday Night Football, broadcaster Tony Kornheiser remarked after playing a touchdown call from a Spanish Affiliate station “I took high school Spanish and that either means ‘nobody is going to touch him’ or ‘could you pick up my dry cleaning in the morning.” Kornheiser wasn’t fired for saying this. But he did end up apologizing for it. But was what he said even offensive? Was he perpetuating the well-known stereotype that Mexicans like to pick up dry-cleaning? No doubt this was just damage control for a politically correct organization trying to cover all of their bases.

(2009) No, not all the world’s black people are African Americans.

During a college basketball matchup between Tennessee and Vanderbilt which was played around the time of Barrack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration, a conversation with Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli was a topic that sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards brought up. According to Edwards, Ezeli’s thoughts on the inauguration were as follows:

“I talked to Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli – who is from Nigeria – before the game about Obama’s inauguration. He told me that it isn’t as big of a deal to him as it is to most people, because all they have in Nigeria are African-American presidents.”

Now of course, the individuals who are elected to higher office in Nigeria are not African American (they’re African). It seems rather unlikely that Ezeli would have used the term “African American” to describe his own countrymen. He most likely used the word “black.” But that’s not quite good enough for ESPN. Even when stating someone is an African American is factually incorrect, it’s better than being politically incorrect.

(2016) The Espy Awards embrace gun control.

At the annual ESPN awards show (called the ESPY’s), the 2016 show involved a segment on an innocent teenager who had been shot and killed. The segment began with two time NBA MVP Steph Curry talking about all of the times guns take lives in America. Of course he didn’t mention the large percentage of these times which are suicides or the times where a shooting saves a life from a would-be attacker. The slain boy’s mother was even brought on stage to make the case for more gun control before the segment ended. No mention of the war on drugs or any societal problems that may have caused this teen’s death. Only guns are allowed to be blamed for violence on an ESPN award show.

Well, there it is. Just a taste of how blatantly adherent to political correctness ESPN (and likely others in the sports media) have become. It often takes an incident as absurd as banning a man from a broadcasting job due to his name to shine light on how bad things have gotten. But let’s also take notice of other examples that show the sports media for what it is. Holding them accountable for these types of incidents might cause them to take a long look at their current state.

John Thompson Delivers Best Quote From Latest ’30 for 30′

The latest installment of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series, One and Not Done, examines the career of current Kentucky Wildcats head basketball coach John Calipari. The title is derived from a certain type of player in college basketball who only plays one year at a school, then goes into the NBA draft. This phenomenon has occurred primarily after the NBA passed a rule in 2005 making it so that drafted players had to be at least one year out of high school. Calipari is largely credited in leading the way in getting elite players only wishing to play one year of college basketball before jumping to the professional level. This has made him a controversial figure in the college basketball world.

Most of the documentary reviews Calipari’s beginnings as a head coach and his rise through the ranks of basketball. The “one and done” phenomenon is only introduced and discussed throughout the two hour film’s last half hour. But in the midst of all of the discussions and opinions about the system Calipari has pioneered, one quote stood out as perhaps the truest and most insightful. That quote was from former Georgetown University head coach John Thompson when discussing the departure of many of these players from the ranks of college basketball. After claiming that he wouldn’t like Calipari if he were currently trying to coach against him, Thompson said:

“this whole religious experience that we have about people leaving school. How many people have you heard of, millionaires and billionaires, that dropped out of school and still were successful in life?”

First of all, Thompson’s equating of college with religion is strikingly accurate. In both the American political and social circle, college is exalted to a near religious status. More money for college (provided by government of course) is always good. More kids going to college is always a sign of societal improvement. More college graduates are nothing but a positive for social advancement. Few American institutions are more sacrosanct than that of higher education.

The second part of his quote displays an overwhelming truth as well. That is the fact that many people aside from college basketball players do not need college to become successful. Remarkably wealthy entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Ralph Lauren and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of college before receiving a degree. But of course, there isn’t the lamenting over the abrupt departure from college when it comes to these individuals. This is because performing the job that gets them this wealth is not a spectator sport at the amateur level like basketball is. No one was gathering around a television to watch Zuckerberg write algorithms in college (or out of college for that matter). But since college basketball is a wildly popular televised event, many people can’t seem to cease all of the lamenting as to why elite basketball players choose to leave school for a big paycheck rather than stay at a level that doesn’t pay them at all.

Not only is Thompson’s quote accurate, but it’s refreshing to hear someone from his generation embrace the market-driven aspect of these players’ decisions. Thompson is 75 years old and had his heyday as Georgetown’s head coach in the 1980’s. Back then, players were much more likely to stay longer at college than they are today. Patrick Ewing, the best player Thompson ever coached, stayed all four years at Georgetown. It would be unthinkable for a player of his talent to stay at a school that long this day in age. Other coaches from Thompson’s era, like Jim Calhoun and Bob Knight, have been quite critical of “one and done” players. It seems these coaches aren’t content with simply preventing players from getting paid for their skills for just one year.

Of course, for those of us who believe in the freedom of contract and self-ownership, the problem with the “one and done” rule is that it requires those who have reached the age of adulthood to spend at least a year not being able to profit off of the talents that they have. Therefore, there should be no age requirement after a player gets out of high school who has the talent to play a professional sport. All college athletes are barred from receiving any financial compensation for the duration of their college careers. So by preventing athletes from entering the draft for any period of time, the freedom of contract is violated.

So Thompson certainly deserves credit for recognizing that times have changed and those elite basketball players who do leave school early are just responding to the economic incentives that can lure people out of college to pursue any other career. Perhaps if the NCAA and NBA came to accept this fact, athletes considered to be adults by law could be allowed to enter the draft and get compensated for their talents. Either that, or allow college athletes to get paid while competing at the school. But the prevention of these things will only cause those athletes to see greener pastures at the professional level and make the decision to get paid what they are worth.