ESPN and Robert Lee Learn People Love Being Angry About Everything

It is the nature of the internet for knee-jerk reactions to spread like wildfire.

by Sean Newell
Aug 23 2017, 4:06pm

Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

We are living in a truly amazing era in human history. Every week—every day, even—we seem to get wrapped up in the dumbest motherfucking shit you have ever heard of in your life. I can write the incomprehensible gibberish "covfefe" right now and every single one of you knows what I'm talking about. It's almost entirely possible that a presidential piss tape exists. A hot topic of debate is whether it's OK to punch a Nazi. Our capacity for stupidity is limitless.

Now we have a new Thing to kick around for a few news cycles: a college football play-by-play man no one ever heard of before who shares a name with Robert E. Lee was supposed to call a game in Charlottesville and now he isn't.

Earlier this month, of course, Charlottesville played host to a violent rally of white supremacists and neo-Nazis who were upset that a monument to the general of the Confederate Army was going to be taken down. One woman protesting the rally was murdered when a man sped a car through a crowd of people, and two other police officers were killed in a helicopter crash.

In the aftermath of all this, ESPN was concerned about bringing a man named Robert Lee in to call a game no one cares about, UVA versus William & Mary.

The news, which was not announced by ESPN but rather leaked to Fox Sports analyst and conservative charlatan Clay Travis, is quite dumb. It fed into a growing sentiment that ESPN has become some sort of force for liberalism, despite re-hiring hank Williams, Jr. who actually sells gear emblazoned with the confederate flag on his personal website. Nevertheless, for Travis, someone who lives to be outraged by people's ability to be considerate of others, this was another example of liberalism and the PC Police running amok. ESPN, however, says it just didn't want its employee being reduced to a meme.

I am not going to sit here and defend ESPN's decision, but knowing what we know about the internet, the media, and The State of the Discourse Today, the stated reasoning behind it isn't entirely absurd. All it takes is for one random college football Twitter person to snap a picture of Robert Lee's name on the screen in Charlottesville and caption it with a thinking emoji before we get thousands of tweets and a shitload of blogs about what a dumb mistake ESPN made by keeping Lee on the game. It's a meaningless game, you can hear the argument go, why make this an unnecessary story because of a stupid coincidence. Or, How could they not have seen this coming?? The internet trades on schadenfreude and Nelson Muntz-ing everything, and ESPN sending a guy named Robert Lee to Charlottesville could just as easily have had everyone up in arms as they are right now with him being moved off it. Because this isn't about Lee.

People love to be performatively angry and woke, and most of all they love to prove to everyone else that they are in possession of the correct worldview. You take a tragic, national event like the racism in Charlottesville and add a fuck-up from a giant company that everyone likes to rag on like ESPN, and it's the perfect storm.

So now we are stuck with this dumb, dumb story. ESPN probably overreacted to a potentially embarrassing, uncomfortable situation for itself and one of its employees. But the internet definitely overreacts to everything and is capable of being just as disingenuous as monolithic corporations. Robert Lee in Charlottesville is the platonic ideal of a lose-lose situation.