Last night ESPN confirmed that they had moved their scheduled play-by-play announcer from the University of Virginia’s opening home football game against William and Mary. The announcer is Asian-American Robert Lee. Here is ESPN’s full statement on the issue:
“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 apparently made this decision because they were worried people would be offended having an Asian-American with a name similar to the man who commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia broadcast a football game in Charlottesville, Virginia.
For reference here are the two men in question:
See any similarities besides the name? I did not think so. I am also pretty sure fans with a working brain would also be able to tell the difference as well.
Honestly, if ESPN had just kept Lee as the announcer there might have been a few memes or comments on Twitter about it during the game itself and that would have been the end of it. However, once ESPN decided to move Lee to another game and let news outlets get wind of it, this story became a much bigger deal than it otherwise would have been.
Furthermore, the University of Virginia vs. William and Mary game was scheduled to be streamed on ESPN’s digital networks, and not on any of ESPN’s television channels, so the vast majority of the people that would be watching the broadcast would be fans of the schools playing.
Just like a week ago when ESPN apologized for holding an auction draft (even though auction drafts have been a part of fantasy sports for years). ESPN is paying too much attention to a small fraction of its viewing audience that makes noise online but does not represent the vast majority of people who watch ESPN on a daily basis.
Hopefully this silliness does not become the norm.