ESPN sportscaster Dave LaMont needs to remember the cardinal rule of conference calls: If you’re not talking, you’re on mute.
For those just catching up with the story, the veteran play-by-play man made a big mistake during a conference call last month in which the network’s college football staff talked about their experiences.
The call was described by the New York Post, which broke the story, as “passionate” and filled with “riveting and emotional testimonials from on- and off-air people as hundreds listened.”
This wasn’t the time to commit that cardinal sin, but commit it LaMont did — he described the nature of the call as “venting” while talking with his wife.
Maria Taylor, the black sideline reporter who was speaking, warned him there would be ramifications if he didn’t stop. He did.
LaMont apologized to his superiors at ESPN immediately. That may not be enough, however; his bosses discussed letting him go the moment the call ended, and the network’s human resources department is now handling the matter, the Post reported.
Various people on the call described the remark as “uncomfortable,” “shocking” and “bad timing,” according to the outlet.
I’d go with the first and the third, personally — although I wasn’t on the call myself. The question is whether or not a man who’s worked for the network for 16 years ought to be fired for what’s almost certainly the worst moment of his professional career.
“A comment was made to my wife that was overheard on the college football call, offending some who heard it,” LaMont told the Post.
“We have a racially integrated home and I respect and admire those who spoke up about their experiences. I profusely apologize to everyone on the call.”
In terms of that racially integrated house: “Tedarrell Slaton, now a senior defensive lineman at Florida, who is black, lived with the LaMont family during Slaton’s high school years,” the Post reported.
“The family did not formally adopt Slaton, but Slaton has honored them with a tattoo that reads, ‘Family shows no color.'”
According to USA Today, Stanton was friends with LaMont’s son.
So guess what some on social media focused on:
In his apology, Dave LaMont says, “We have a racially integrated home…”
I haven’t heard that term since Brown v. Board was decided in 1954. What’re the chances he also uses the term “colored”?https://t.co/pH0uX6ZQqc
— Staying in the Game (@AdrienneLaw) July 9, 2020
That’s author and attorney Adrienne Lawrence, who seems to be under the impression that talking about having “a racially integrated home” is using antediluvian language regarding race — which apparently proves he’s a racist.
There’s no one denying LaMont made a mistake. There’s also no talk about the context and tone of his use of the word “venting,” which is somewhat important. If it’s a remark he made to his wife — and no one on the call seems to dispute this — there’s an unbecoming asperity with which ESPN is reportedly treating LaMont.
This is more about the exigencies of the moment, however, particularly when LaMont’s remark inspires headlines like this one from black-centric website Bossip:
Watch Your Mayo Mouth: ESPN’s Dave LaMont In Job Jeopardy After Displaying Caucasity Audacity With Maria Taylor During Conference Call About Race
— Bossip (@Bossip) July 9, 2020
If ESPN gets rid of LaMont, they won’t have to deal with headlines like “Watch Your Mayo Mouth.” It’s an easy fix, right?
There’s nothing that indicates a racial animus in anything LaMont did. He made a professional mistake on an emotional call.
The reason he could reportedly be fired has to do with The Great Reckoning™, a national discussion about privilege in which any break from po-faced seriousness is reason enough for termination.
It’s impossible to know what’s going on inside the halls at ESPN’s Bristol headquarters and inside the LaMont home. From an outsider’s perspective, however, LaMont seems like a guy who’s done everything right except hit the mute button and take a call on race seriously enough. If this is a one-off, firing him is merely about satiating the beast that demands blood every time there’s a public crisis with ties to a wider cultural narrative.
As for whether or not LaMont has a job, that still seems up in the air. LaMont seems to think he does. ESPN wouldn’t give the Post confirmation of that, however.
“We took this matter very seriously, both in the moment and subsequently, and have addressed it appropriately,” said ESPN in a statement. “Consistent with policy, we have no plans to publicly share the specifics involving individual personnel matters.”
In short, this looks as if it’s being handled in a wholly P.R.-tastic way, without any consideration of who Lamont is and his intentions.
This is a guy who’s been with ESPN for over a decade and a half. He took a black high schooler into his home. He made a mistake that doesn’t have to do with racist speech — and he could be out of a job, the dreaded “canceled” sticker slapped on his forehead.
That’s racial justice in 2020, apparently.
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