Robert Lee, an Asian-American sports announcer, won’t be calling a University of Virginia football game for ESPN because he shares the name of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, according to The New York Times.
Lee is not related to the general, but ESPN cited “safety” in announcing that Lee wouldn’t be calling the September game in Charlottesville, Virginia anymore. According to the Times, ESPN “has removed an announcer from its broadcast of the University of Virginia’s first football game next month because he has the same name as a Confederate general memorialized in statues that are being taken down across the country.”
The website Outkick the Coverage first reported the news on August 22.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Network Says the Decision Was ‘Collective’ & Made Because of the ‘Coincidence’ of Lee’s Name
ESPN released a statement that explained the decision was a collective one and admitting it was made because Lee shares the name with the general, who died in 1870.
“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,” the ESPN statement read, according to Outkick the Coverage and many other news outlets.
“ESPN notes that assignments are switched all the time,” Fox News added.
According to NBC News, “A spokeswoman for ESPN said Lee had been moved to Youngstown State’s game at Pittsburgh on the ACC Network on Sept. 2.” The Virginia game is the season opener for the University of Virginia. According to the Times Union newspaper, Lee “initially was scheduled for the William and Mary at Virginia game but is now assigned to Youngstown State at Pittsburgh,
2. Lee Calls About a Dozen Football Games a Year for ESPN
According to The New York Times, Lee is a “part-time employee who calls about a dozen college football and basketball games a year for ESPN.” Fox News reports that Lee is “an Asian-American sportscaster who started with the network in 2016.”
On LinkedIn, Lee describes himself as “a Professional with years of experience in business development, broadcasting and corporate customer service. Team player with dynamic personality and sense of humor who meshes well with co-workers, customers and clients. Quick-thinking orator and writer who can adjust to changing situations without a drop in productivity. Bi-lingual (English, Mandarin Chinese).”
He describes his work for ESPN as, ‘Play-by-Play Broadcaster, ESPNU, ESPN3, September 2016 – Present (1 year). Broadcast nearly 15 college basketball games on ESPNU and ESPN3 (Big South, MAAC, Ohio Valley, ACC, American, A-10). Call several MAC and FCS Playoff college football games on ESPN3 and WatchESPN.”
3. Lee Works in Payroll Services & Has Been a Play-by-Play Announcer for Siena College for 17 Years
On LinkedIn, Lee says that he works as a “Channel Partner Manager” for GTM Payroll Services Inc., a position he has held for three years in addition to the sports announcing work he does. Among his duties: “Develop and maintain relationships with partners, including CPAs, Nanny and Household Staffing Agencies, Family Office managers and Wealth Advisors” and “Speak with partners and potential clients about GTM’s services and product offerings designed to assist with managing household payroll and tax.”
He has also held other positions in the sports media world. For the past 17 years, according to LinkedIn, he has served as the “Voice of Siena College Men’s Basketball program on television and radio broadcasts,” where he hosts a “weekly radio show with Siena basketball coaches to encourage awareness of Siena basketball program and boost attendance at games.” Siena College is located in Albany, New York.
Lee also was Director of Public Relations and Media for North American Sports Group; an On-Air Host/Social Media Coordinator/Producer for Capital OTB, for which he hosted a television show about horse racing; a customer service representative for Albany International; and Siena College’s assistant sports information director.
4. Online Reaction to the Decision Was Largely Critical of ESPN
People online were incredulous that Lee wouldn’t be calling the game because he shares the name of a long-dead Confederate general to whom he is not related. Many people sprang to Lee’s defense. Examples of the reaction:
Some people expressed that Asian-Americans are underrepresented in sports announcing as it is.
5. The Charlottesville Unrest Started Over a Robert E. Lee Statue Controversy
The “Unite the Right” rally that led to images of neo Nazis with torches in the streets of Charlottesville was over the city’s planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from the city’s downtown.
James Alex Fields is accused of ramming a car into counter protesters, killing paralegal Heather Heyer. He was described as a Hitler admirer. Since then, Confederate statues have been slated for removal throughout the country, with those of Lee and Stonewall Jackson getting the most media attention.
You can read more about the Robert E. Lee statue controversy in Charlottesville here: