Sportscasters Robert Lee and Brooke Weisbrod

Photo via RobertLeePXP/Twitter

ESPN pulls Asian-American broadcaster Robert Lee from UVA game

He switched games to avoid the memes—but ended up becoming one, anyway.


Samantha Grasso


Posted on Aug 23, 2017   Updated on May 22, 2021, 7:41 pm CDT

ESPN has pulled its broadcaster Robert Lee from calling the University of Virginia home opener on Sept. 2 because he shares a name with Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general whose statue removal in Charlottesville incited white supremacist protests that led to the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer.

Lee, who is Asian-American, has been a sportscaster for 20 years and works for ESPN3. He began calling games at his alma mater, Syracuse University. Instead of announcing the Virginia football game, Lee will cover the Youngstown State game at Pittsburgh on the ACC Network Extra channel, according to the Washington Post.

“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,” Derek Volner, an ESPN spokesperson, told the Post. “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.”

According to Sports Illustrated reporter Richard Deitsch, spokesperson Keri Potts said ESPN didn’t “mandate Robert Lee change his assignment,” and that Lee was “more comfortable” not doing the Virginia game.

In an email sent to journalist Yashar Ali, an unnamed ESPN executive wrote that Lee’s transfer wasn’t about “offending anyone,” but instead done to avoid the possibility that Lee’s name would be subjected to “memes and jokes and who knows what else.” But after ESPN offered Lee the switch and they agreed upon the decision, someone leaked the transfer, ensuring that the memes would persist regardless.

“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,” the executive wrote. “No politically correct efforts. No race issues. Just trying to be supportive of a young guy who felt it best to avoid the potential zoo.”

H/T Fox News

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*First Published: Aug 23, 2017, 7:58 am CDT