ESPN college sports announcer Robert Lee is embroiled in the center of a media firestorm on Wednesday after the network pulled him from calling a University of Virginia football game because he has the same name was Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general.
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Lee, who is Asian-American, started working at ESPN in Sept. 2016, according to his LinkedIn page. Aside from his role as a sports broadcaster, Lee has a full-time job at a payroll services company in upstate New York, where he serves as a channel partner manager. He attended Syracuse University and graduated in 1999.
Since 2000, Lee has also served as a play-by-play announcer for Siena College’s men’s basketball team in New York. For ESPN, he has primarily covered college basketball games.
ESPN said Lee and network officials mutually agreed to change his Virginia Cavaliers game assignment when violent white nationalist protests unfolded in nearby Charlottesville on Aug. 12. Clay Travis, founder of the “Outkick the Coverage” sports blog, was first to report the decision.
“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,” ESPN said in a statement.
An unnamed ESPN executive elaborated on the decision in an interview with USA Today, explaining that network officials were concerned that Lee, “a young, new play-by-play announcer…would show up in Twitter memes and posts like Awful Announcing or Deadspin.” Lee was given the option to switch or stay on the game, the official added.
Lee did not immediately respond to FOX Business’ request for comment.
Critics have repeatedly accused ESPN in recent months of exhibiting political bias in its sports coverage. ESPN executives, including Disney CEO Bob Iger, have denied the allegations.