ESPN has pulled its broadcaster Robert Lee from calling the University of Virginia home opener on Sept. 2 because he shares a name with Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general whose statue removal in Charlottesville incited white supremacist protests that led to the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer.
Lee, who is Asian-American, has been a sportscaster for 20 years and works for ESPN3. He began calling games at his alma mater, Syracuse University. Instead of announcing the Virginia football game, Lee will cover the Youngstown State game at Pittsburgh on the ACC Network Extra channel, according to the Washington Post.
— Robert Lee (@RobertLeePXP) November 14, 2016
“We collectively made the decision with Robert to switch games as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name,” Derek Volner, an ESPN spokesperson, told the Post. “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.”
According to Sports Illustrated reporter Richard Deitsch, spokesperson Keri Potts said ESPN didn’t “mandate Robert Lee change his assignment,” and that Lee was “more comfortable” not doing the Virginia game.
In an email sent to journalist Yashar Ali, an unnamed ESPN executive wrote that Lee’s transfer wasn’t about “offending anyone,” but instead done to avoid the possibility that Lee’s name would be subjected to “memes and jokes and who knows what else.” But after ESPN offered Lee the switch and they agreed upon the decision, someone leaked the transfer, ensuring that the memes would persist regardless.
Just received this email from an ESPN executive re the Robert Lee controversy. pic.twitter.com/OuBORlWO9f
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) August 23, 2017
From 1862 until his surrender in 1865, ESPN college football announcer Robert Lee commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. pic.twitter.com/eQKXyXRNgl
— NotKennyRogers (@NotKennyRogers) August 23, 2017
1. Punishing an Asian-American for his last name out of fear of racism.#RobertLee
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) August 23, 2017
— Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) August 23, 2017
“The reaction to our switching a young, anonymous play by play guy for a streamed ACC game is off the charts—reasonable proof that the meme/joke possibility was real,” the executive wrote. “No politically correct efforts. No race issues. Just trying to be supportive of a young guy who felt it best to avoid the potential zoo.”
H/T Fox News