In a move that frankly reads like it came out of The Onion, ESPN pulled its sportscaster Robert Lee in coverage of University of Virginia football game — because his name is the same as the Confederate general. The company believed that having a sportscaster named Lee for a Virginia game could be painful for some after the protests in Charlottesville. It does not matter that the sportscaster is Asian or that such an association is facially absurd.
ESPN seems blissfully unaware that it was taking a ridiculous action and explained that he was moved to a different game “simply because of the coincidence of his name.”
Here is the statement:
“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.”
It is a curious statement that “it’s a shame that this is even a topic” when ESPN made it a topic and moved an employee based on the most superficial association with a general who died in 1870. The ESPN decision shows less concern than contempt for viewers who it believes would be aggrieved by having someone named Lee broadcasting a Virginia game.
Now the greater concern is whether Thomas Jackson will return to ESPN to take up the slack. While he is African American, there is no escaping the fact that he was the same name at Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson.