ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in overreaction

So consumed with progressive propriety was the network that it imagined that a few fevered opinions would destroy it

History, as Karl Marx observed, repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.

For those playing along at home, we’re knee-deep into an Oscar Wilde-like farce of professional sports. Saturday night, the Conor McGregor/Floyd Mayweather bout was deemed a resounding success – mostly because it didn’t suck as badly as the pundits had predicted.

In the sporting version of cats laying down with dogs, the guy from mixed martial arts satisfied his legions by remaining erect for 10 rounds of pummelling by boxer Mayweather. “Money Floyd” delayed boxing’s unspoken fear that MMA is in the ascent while boxing is in the descent.

And the millions who shelled out $100 to watch the proceedings online or on TV? They got about a half hour of “Gee, it’s not so bad as I thought.”

The fight of low expectations capped a week where the farce was with us in other boroughs of sport. Cable giant ESPN stunned nearly everyone with its surreptitious decision to remove an Asian-American sportscaster named Robert Lee from the broadcast of a University of Virginia football game. Because … he shares the name of Virginian Robert E. Lee, the man who led the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s.

To many, it seemed a perfect Onion satire – until it was discovered that the sensitivity department at ESPN was dead serious. So consumed with progressive propriety was the network that it imagined that the fevered opinions of would destroy it. Needless to say, only the most strident white-liberal guilt apostle could torture the connection as did ESPN.

Until the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader” tripped on its own laces.

The network then added to its embarrassment by insisting that it had consulted Lee about changing his assignment, and that the sportscaster had been the one to agree to the entire thing. But humiliation in the service of liberal farce is no sin to ESPN: “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.”

You see, the sin here is the person who leaked the Lee news, not the news itself. Of course.

That’s why ESPN’s absurd polity is killing its ratings, says TV critic Norman Chad: “The last time I watched SportsCenter, Keith Olbermann was still in a good mood.” No wonder viewers are cutting the cord on ESPN faster than any other major cable network.

As I wrote last week, the Canadian Football League adopting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election slogan Diversity Is Strength illustrates that sports leagues are in hurry-up mode to drop the thrill of victory for the convenience of conformity. Changing team names, reorganizing their histories, over-punishing offenders of social mores … nothing’s too good for our noisy critics.

Black sports columnist Jason Whitlock thinks the whole sensitivity thing is less about citizenship and more about fear of ultra-liberal values. Said Whitlock to Fox TV’s Tucker Carlson: “This is a Twitter-driven story. ESPN basically acknowledged, ‘We were worried about the Twitter reaction. Were we far enough left on this position to be protected from a Twitter backlash?’ That’s what drove them to make this decision.”

The fear that Twitter might engulf them again is what has changed the National Football League into a hanging judge. After getting wrong-footed on the Ray Rice domestic assault for being too soft, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is now handing out disproportionate penalties on issues that the police say are not even criminal. Better to hand out a large penalty, then lower it when an arbitrator finds it unfair, than suffer the rage of Twitter’s leftist scolds.

The same is happening in the front offices of all the major pro sports. Guys who talk tough are pussycats when a bad tweet arrives.

That’s why it was nice to have a few politically incorrect laughs courtesy of McGregor/Mayweather slagging each other before the fight. “I’m gonna f— this boy up, make no mistake. And when it’s all said and done, I’m gonna feel a little bit sad,” said Mayweather.

“He looks like dog s—,” McGregor said. “You know that, he looks blown out. Full of water. Trust me on that. That’s the worst shape I’ve ever seen him.”

Not exactly Oscar Wilde, but a proper antidote for what ails the uptight nellies who run pro sports these days.

Hey ESPN, we’re big kids. We can handle it. Tell Twitter to go away. It’ll make you feel better in the morning.

Troy Media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.

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