ESPN has been a target of ridicule for pulling an announcer because his name is Robert Lee.
In the wake of violence in Charlottesville, Va., where neo-Nazis rallied to protest the takedown of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, the sports network reassigned Lee, who had been scheduled to cover a University of Virginia football game Sept. 2 in Charlottesville.
The New York Times reports that the network indicated the move was made for the safety of Lee, an Asian American.
ESPN released a statement after the move created a backlash. The network stated: “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.”
Outkick the Coverage, which broke the story Tuesday night, noted that Lee was moved from the Virginia-William and Mary game to a game between Youngstown State and Pittsburgh.
The website was among those to criticize the move, saying ESPN made the decision “because they were concerned that having an Asian football announcer named Robert Lee would be offensive to some viewers.” The site added that the story “seems made for The Onion, but is actually true.”
“Does ESPN really believe people are this dumb or that having an Asian announcer named Robert Lee is too offensive for the average TV viewer to handle?” the article asks.
In a follow-up to the story, the website notes that a senior employee at ESPN indicated that the decision was not the result of a mandate from the company but was a people-first decision, and that assignments are switched frequently.
Fox News, however, summed up the decision this way: “In one ridiculous move, ESPN became a metaphor for everything wrong in media.”