Two weeks after the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia surrounding the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, ESPN has removed a broadcaster from the University of Virginia football game on September 2 because of his name.
His name? Robert Lee.
ESPN was immediately slammed by conservative commentators for what was deemed political correctness gone awry, in part because Lee is an Asian-American. However, ESPN defended the decision as a mutual one between the company and the announcer simply because they wanted to avoid the potential for memes and jokes that would have been made at the expense at the announcer.
Clay Travis of Outkick The Coverage first broke the news and used the headline, “MSESPN Pulls Asian Announcer Named Robert Lee Off UVa Game To Avoid Offending Idiots.” “MSESPN” is a reference to ESPN’s alleged liberal bias along the same lines of MSNBC.
ESPN released a statement saying the decision was not mandated by the company and that it was in the best interest of everybody involved.
“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.”
Another executive at ESPN went further, noting to Yashar Ali of New York Magazine that the move was made to avoid having a young announcer become the subject of memes, jokes, and “the potential zoo.”
“This wasn’t about offending anyone,” the anonymous executive said. “It was about the reasonable possibility that because of his name he would be subjected to memes and jokes and who knows what else… So, when the protests in Charlottesville were happening, we raised with him the notion of switching games, something we do all the time. We didn’t make him. We asked him. Eventually we mutually agreed to switch.”
The executive added that the reaction to the move shows that those fears were well-founded.
“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,” he said.
Lee was reassigned to the Youngstown State-Pittsburgh game.
“No politically correct efforts,” the executive said. “No race issues. Just trying to be supportive of a young guy who felt it best to avoid the potential zoo.”