If anyone has a valuable perspective on the controversy around ESPN reassigning broadcaster Robert Lee from the University of Virginia’s Sept. 2 game against William and Mary, it’s WBAL (the Baltimore NBC affiliate) sports director and Ravens’ radio play-by-play voice Gerry Sandusky (seen above). The public has often mistakenly associated Sandusky with former Penn State defensive coordinator and convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky, and he still gets Twitter abuse intended for the other Sandusky, but they’re no relation. Sandusky spoke to Jonas Shaffer of The Baltimore Sun recently, and talked about how the situation’s “reached a level of epidemic insanity“:
One of the first things I thought about was when everyone reached out to me originally: “So why don’t you change your name?” Well, here’s your answer: What if you change your name to Robert Lee? You’ve got to go with the cards you’re dealt.
Look, it’s reached a level of epidemic insanity when a guy named Robert Lee is taken off a broadcast at a Virginia football game because we’re so hung up on the way people’s names sound, the color of people’s skin, what kind of food they’re eating, whether they’re Republican or Democrat, whether they’re a blue state or a red state. We have so lost touch with the simple, conversational rules of humanity, of giving people their space to have their name, their preferences, their backgrounds, as long as those aren’t hurting anybody.
I mean, I totally understand taking a guy off of a broadcast if he assaulted somebody, sure. But here’s a guy who’s a young broadcaster, has a chance to do an ACC football game. That’s a big deal. And he gets his opportunity taken away from him because somebody might be offended by his name? I just think we’re just so overreacting and so overreaching and so overconcerned about the things that don’t matter because we’re not paying attention to the things that do matter.
Sandusky makes some valid points there. Absolutely, this isn’t something that should really matter. And it shouldn’t necessarily lead to someone’s reassignment, regardless of the reasons for that. However, it’s not clear that the Pitt-Youngstown State game Lee was moved to is any worse than the Virginia-William and Mary game he was initially slated for, as both are airing on digital platforms only (ACC Network and ESPN3 respectively). And ESPN says Lee was involved in that decision, and if it hadn’t been blown up into a big controversy by the news of the assignment change leaking, it could have avoided some potential problems for both them and him. (ESPN’s schedule release had Lee on the Pitt-Youngstown State game, so if that news that he’d been reassigned from an earlier draft of the schedule hadn’t leaked, we wouldn’t have had a controversy.) With that leaking, though, Lee is in the middle of a firestorm, one Sandusky knows all too well. And it’s highly unfortunate that it’s come to that.
However, as Sandusky also points out, this doesn’t have to be a negative for Lee in the long run. Yes, he’s certainly drawn some unwanted attention, and yes, he’ll be hearing a lot of dumb jokes for a while. (Sandusky notes that he still gets bad ones, over six years after the Penn State scandal first began to come to light.) But this also has brought a lot more attention to Lee than your average ESPN3 announcer receives, and it’s got people to notice his impressive work. And he hasn’t done anything wrong in this situation. It’s unfortunate that Lee wound up in the middle of this, but hopefully, he’ll be able to follow Sandusky’s example and move on, ignoring the trolls and continuing to do good work.