ESPN is being blasted for political correctness after pulling announcer Robert Lee from play-by-play duties for the Sept. 2 University of Virginia (UVa) football game, in case some people might be offended by his name.
Robert Lee is Asian.
And UVa is in Charlottesville. The same Charlottesville where on Aug. 14, a group of white supremacists held a rally, ostensibly in defense of a statue honoring Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general.
“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,” said ESPN in a statement. “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.”
ESPN apparently thought Lee’s name might offend some viewers because of similarities to the Civil War general. He is very likely not a descendant of the general.
The LinkedIn profile for Robert Lee, the broadcaster, lists Syracuse as his alma mater and New York as his location, noting he speaks Mandarin. For ESPN, he’s primarily covered mid-major college basketball games and previously covered various sports for Time Warner Cable in Albany.
He is now an online sensation, trending on Twitter and evoking responses of disbelief on social media. Many people thought the story was a prank before ESPN’s statement was confirmed to be real.
One reader wrote, “Half of America can’t tell the difference between satire and ridicule, and ESPN has just provided us with a glimpse of why.”
Another wrote, “This is probably the most bizarre story I have ever read. The over the top political correct bs that we are experiencing in this country has reached a new low. The alt left has lost its freaking mind and the news media and stations like ESPN have played into their game.”
In their apparent attempt to avoid controversy, ESPN has made a huge issue out of what could have been nothing. But, this unexpected fame could at least give Lee’s career as a broadcaster a boost. ■