ESPN pulls Asian-American announcer Robert Lee from Virginia game | Updated: 2017-08-23 23:40

ESPN pulls Asian-American announcer Robert Lee from Virginia game
ESPN logo and building are shown in down town Los Angeles, California, US. (Photo/VCG)

ESPN has removed an Asian-American announcer, Robert Lee, from the home opener football game of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville next month "because of the coincidence of his name" with Civil War General Robert E Lee.

Statues of Lee have been taken down across the US following violent clashes earlier this month during a white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville to protest the city's plan to remove a statue of the general, who commanded the pro-slavery Confederate forces during the Civil War. The protest turned into violent street brawls and one woman was killed and 19 others were injured when a car ploughed through a crowd of counter protesters.

After the violence in Charlottesville, ESPN executives and Lee decided that for his safety it would be best to have him work on a different game that Saturday, a network spokesman said in a statement late Tuesday. Lee has been moved to Youngstown State's game at Pittsburgh on the ACC Network on Sept 2, according to a spokeswoman for ESPN.

Derek Volner, an ESPN spokesman, told The Washington Post in an emailed 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," he said

Volner declined to say if the network made a pre-emptive decision or responded to outside pressure to pull Lee from the broadcast, according to the newspaper.

The Post said that an ESPN network spokesperson told Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch that ESPN didn't force Lee to change assignments and that Lee personally felt more comfortable moving to another game

Lee is a part-time ESPN employee who announces about a dozen college football and basketball games a year for the network. He has been a sportscaster for 20 years, and began his career calling games at Syracuse University, his alma mater. He is fluent in English and Mandarin Chinese, according to his online resume.

He hasn't returned calls from various media outlets seeking comment.

The website Outkick the Coverage broke the story about Lee's removal on Tuesday afternoon, and ESPN subsequently confirmed the report.

The website reported the story with a headline invoking a popular conservative nickname for ESPN, "MSESPN," which derides the network as the sports equivalent of the liberal talk shows on the MSNBC cable network.  The headline said, "MSESPN Pulls Asian Announcer Named Robert Lee Off UVa Game To Avoid Offending Idiots."

The report provoked a storm of criticism on social media platforms with many commenters saying that on social saying that ESPN overreacted.


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