Following violent riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, ESPN is apparently attempting to avoid future controversy by removing any anchors or reporters whose names might offend fans in the area—but its removal of an Asian-American announcer who shares the name of a Confederate general is creating an ample amount of controversy.
Robert Lee, a part-time announcer for the network, is receiving air time in a whole new way after it was revealed that ESPN removed him from the roster for coverage of University of Virginia’s first home football game in Charlottesville on Sept. 2.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the network said:
“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.”
Robert E. Lee was a general of the Confederate Army in Virginia during the Civil War. Quotes attributed to Lee commemorate his distaste for the war that made him famous, such as “It is well that war is so terrible—otherwise we would grow too fond of it,” and “What a cruel thing war is… to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors.”
While Lee surrendered to the Union Army in 1865, and the Confederacy lost the war, statues commemorating him and other Confederates can be found across the country. Those statues have recently become a subject of controversy, leading to a series of overnight removals in locations such as the University of Texas.
However, while the presence of these Confederate statues have angered many, the presence of an ESPN announcer who happens to share the name of a Confederate general does not seem to be creating nearly as much controversy—unless it is from the outrage surrounding his removal.
One Twitter user wrote, “If this society can’t tell the difference from ‘Robert E Lee’ from 150+ years ago to an Asian sportscaster ‘Robert Lee’ we are in trouble.”
If this society can't tell the difference from "Robert E Lee" from 150+ years ago to an Asian sportscaster "Robert Lee" we are in trouble
— Eric Smith (@Eric_RaceReview) August 23, 2017
Another user pointed out the possible hypocrisy that could occur if any athletes involved shared the same fate as the sportscast, writing, “@ESPN if an athletes name is Robert Lee are you going to not show their game?”
@espn if an athletes name is Robert Lee are you going to not show their game?
— General Lee (@NCGeneralLee) August 23, 2017
Another Twitter user even posted a side-by-side comparison of the two Robert Lee’s:
— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) August 23, 2017
While Confederate statues are often called symbols of racism, the fact is that removing them—or even removing TV announcers who happen to share their names—will not end racism in this country. As The Free Thought Project reported in the wake of the Charlottesville riots:
“A statue holds no magical power to make people racists. If anything, the monuments to former racists serve as reminders that the state can and always will be open to the influence of bigotry—and only the state has the power to enforce racism.
An ignorant racist is exactly that—however, if society grants that ignorant racist a political position or a badge and a gun, this ignorant racist now has power over you. Removing or keeping a piece of concrete will never change this.”