On Tuesday, Outkick the Coverage reported that ESPN had pulled Robert Lee, who is Asian, from announcing a University of Virginia football game because of the Charlottesville protests and his similarity in name to Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Fox News’s Tucker Carlson Tonight included the story on its show Wednesday night as well and an ESPN statement confirmed the action. However, the story then grew into a larger political debate over political correctness.
ESPN did not respond to a request for comment.
Outkick the Coverage remarked that the decision was made “to avoid offending left wing idiots.” This style indicated that ESPN was bowing to political pressure, but that was not the case.
ESPN’s initial statement was “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 president John Skipper wrote an internal memo to employees on Wednesday that provided more context. He wrote that there was a concern the assignment would cause “social hectoring and trolling” for Lee. As a result, Lee preferred to do cover the Pitt-Youngstown State game instead.
Tucker Carlson Tonight covered the story again on Wednesday night and a story about ESPN was on Fox News’s homepage that night. Indeed, Fox News made the story a priority during its primetime opinion programming. The Five discussed the story and Sean Hannity blasted the network and tweeted that ESPN surrendered to “political correctness.”