Among the many thousands of men named Robert Lee who have lived and died in the United States, there is one Robert Lee who became famous for commanding the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. As is the case with a good many prominent historical figures with common names, almost all references to this particular Robert Lee include his middle initial, E (for Edward), to reduce instances of confusion between the man whose army surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant’s Union forces at Appomattox Court House in 1865 and anyone else who might bear the name Robert Lee.
So, before we move on:
- Robert E. Lee was a Confederate general who has been dead for 147 years.
- One of the 11,000 or so living Americans named Robert Lee is a young play-by-play man for ESPN who was assigned to work the Virginia game against William & Mary on Saturday in Charlottsville, Va.
That was, until ESPN re-assigned him … for having the same name as a Confederate general.
This news was broken by Clay Travis, who noted quite a few times in his report that Lee is of Asian descent.
In a story that seems made for The Onion, but is actually true, according to multiple Outkick fans inside ESPN MSESPN decided to pull an Asian college football announcer named Robert Lee off the William and Mary at University of Virginia college football game because they were concerned that having an ASIAN FOOTBALL ANNOUNCER NAMED ROBERT LEE would be offensive to some viewers. Did I mention that Robert Lee is Asian?
ESPN soon confirmed the move, and added an explanation.
“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 indeed a shame this is a topic of conversation, but ESPN made it one by re-assigning Robert Lee and offering an explanation for it that is indistinguishable from parody.
Dan Wolken of USA Today sought further explanation.
It’s no big deal for a network to re-assign a broadcaster, unless the reason it did so is that he shares a common name with an unpopular historical figure and that network is afraid of hypothetical memes.
But it does make me worried for Bob Ley.