Oh, I see what you did there. Because Robert Lee, an Asian announcer for ESPN, happens to share the same name as the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, ESPN thought it was a good move to take him off a University of Virginia home-opener football game because, well, awkward.
CNN reports that Lee—the announcer, not the general—was switched to cover the Youngstown-vs.-Pitt game instead. The news station adds that the move was a sensitive one not just because of the recent violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Va., but because Lee just got a promotion and didn’t want to cause any waves.
While I understand that ESPN is trying to be sensitive to those offended by statues of the Confederate general and by the white nationalist rally of pale-faced white men wearing angry scowls and carrying tiki torches, this feels like a stretch at best. But before you start in with your ESPN jokes, keep in mind that the network was trying not only to be sensitive to viewers who might’ve been offended; it also didn’t want Lee to become a punchline to crude social media jokesters. Both efforts seem genuine, I guess.
The news that Lee had been switched because of his name started to trickle out late Tuesday. According to CNN, the website Outkick the Coverage broke the story with “MSESPN Pulls Asian Announcer Named Robert Lee Off UVa Game to Avoid Offending Idiots” as the headline; “MSESPN” is a common conservative epithet implying that ESPN behaves like MSNBC. CNN notes that “the story was so popular that the site’s servers were overloaded on Tuesday evening.”
Here’s how ESPN explained its decision to remove Lee from UVA’s home opener:
“In that moment it felt right to all parties,” the network said. “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.”
CNN notes that two Fox News shows mocked the network’s decision and ran a banner across the screen during at least one news broadcast calling the switch “pathetic.”
UVA’s opening game against William and Mary is on Sept. 2, the same day as the Youngstown versus Pitt game, and neither game will be broadcast on television but will be livestreamed on ESPN’s digital networks.
Read more at CNN.