ESPN has switched announcer Robert Lee off of its broadcast of the University of Virginia’s first football game of the season next month, owing to what the network said was “the coincidence of his name.” Lee, who is Asian-American, shares a first and last name with the Confederate general whose statues have become a source of intense controversy in the United States.
The sports network on Tuesday said the announcer would not call the September 2 match-up against William and Mary in Charlottesville, Virginia where violence erupted during a march by white supremacists and neo-Nazis earlier this month, resulting in the death of a young woman.
In a statement, ESPN said, “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. 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.”
On August 12, a Unite the Right rally was held on and near the UVA campus in response to the planned removal of a Robert E Lee statue from a University park.
After the events, ESPN executives and Lee decided that for his safety it would be best to have him work on a different game, a network spokesman told the New York Times.
The original plan had been for Lee to be in the announcer’s booth for the broadcast on the ACC Network. Instead, Lee will call Youngstown State’s game against the University of Pittsburgh. Neither match is scheduled to air on television. Lee works part-time for the network, calling college and football games.
CNN’s Brian Stelter commented today, “By trying to avoid an embarrassing ordeal, ESPN has embarrassed itself.”
Website OutkicktheCoverage.com broke the story with the headline, “MSESPN Pulls Asian Announcer Named Robert Lee Off UVa Game To Avoid Offending Idiots.” According to Stelter, the site’s servers were overloaded on Tuesday evening U.S. time.
Robert Lee became a trending topic on Twitter overnight as the network’s decision was widely met with criticism.