Coverage of the events in Charlottesville have dominated the national news of late and for the most part, sports hasn’t been a large part of that national coverage. That changed tonight, as news broke that ESPN has pulled play-by-play broadcaster Robert Lee from calling Virginia’s season opener against William & Mary.

ESPN issued the following statement on the personel change:

“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 news was originally broken by Outkick the Coverage and was later confirmed by ESPN in the statement above. Clay Travis, who wrote the original story for OTC, said he spoke with a senior employee at ESPN who made it clear this wasn’t a demand from anyone, and that it instead was a personnel decision and switch.

The decision at first didn’t seem to be a big story given the low profile nature of Lee within ESPN’s talent ranks and the low interest in the game, which would air regionally and involved a sub-bowl division team.

Travis then appeared on Fox News to discuss the news, and in the hours since, the personnel change has become major news, particularly for conservative-leaning news outlets.

Fox News oddly went to air with ESPN labeled as “MSESPN,” a regular nickname Travis calls ESPN when commenting on the network’s perceived political leanings. I’m guessing they just used what was in Travis’s article, but who in cable doesn’t know what ESPN’s name is?

While ESPN is taking a lot of bad publicity here, let’s be honest in that they found themselves in a tough situation here. If Lee did broadcast the game, some viewers would likely have taken offense to the one-in-a-100,000 coincidence. The network clearly opted to try to avoid that situation by quietly moving him to another game, except that the move leaked out and now they’re dealing with this worst possible scenario of another news story that allows conservatives to shake their fist at the sports network.

Lee will now call Pittsburgh’s home opener instead.

Richard Deitsch also reported that Lee was actually involved in the decision and was supportive of it.

While ESPN is taking it in the teeth right now, it’s not hard to imagine keeping Lee on the game would have drawn similar backlash, but from the other side of the political news spectrum. If Lee preferred being moved off of the game, this probably isn’t worthy of the attention it’s currently getting. Most broadcast teams aren’t publicly announced as assigned to specific games until days before games, especially when they are as small as UVA against William and Mary. No offense to either school or football program, but UVA vs. W&M isn’t exactly Alabama vs. Florida State.

Ultimately, it boiled down to ESPN having to pick between two options, neither of which were good. You have to imagine they’re not thrilled with this being leaked out and having to be on Defcon 1 on the PR front, as they again have to deflect criticism about their political leanings. Depending on your political leanings, this could be another damning example of ESPN catering to a progressive liberal agenda, or perhaps them shrewdly looking to avoid what could be viewed as an insensitive and obtuse slight in the wake of an upsetting current event. People will likely be passionately divided on how significant the move is, because simply we live in times where we seem to be passionately divided on all things, and now that extends to a previously unknown announcer getting switched from one shitty football game to another.

UPDATE: New York Magazine’s Yashar Ali tweeted out an email from an ESPN executive with a statement on the Robert Lee controversy.

[Outkick The Coverage]

About David Lauterbach

David is a writer for The Comeback. He enjoyed two Men's Basketball Final Four trips for Syracuse before graduating in 2016. If The Office or Game of Thrones is on TV, David will be watching.

  • Septic Bladder

    AA’s hypocrisy here is beyond breathtaking. In every article where a journalist or broadcaster comes under any kind of attack, this site stridently defends that journo / caster.
    And here you’re defending ESPN, for hiding behind the left’s curtains?
    Again, breathtaking hypocrisy.

    I wonder what Robert Bob Ley has to say about this.

    Shame on AA for this piece of trash article, although it comes as no surprise.

    • suse

      Did you read/listen to what I did? :/

    • Edward Greene

      If the reports are true, Bob would probably appreciate his company for trying to help a young broadcaster out knowing full well this would blow up in their face (as it has), rather than throw him to the wolves of teh internet memes. I’m all for bashing ESPN, but in this case, as the article mentions, they had two bad options and they chose the one that was best for its employee, and on that level I respect that.

      • Deon Hamner

        They’re always someone who is gonna complain about something. You spot on Edward Greene.

      • Nathan Walter

        “rather than throw him to the wolves of [the] internet memes”

        And now, he’s being incessantly mocked; memes are being made all around; and ESPN is a laughing stock, from all aisles of the political spectrum.

        As Clay Travis said in the video above, if they would have kept him in, it would have been talked about for an hour (maybe, who actually will watch the UVA-WM game???). Now, it’s going to be talked about for a while, and there’ll be hubbub coming into the broadcast.

  • Lux Interior

    On some weird level the people at AA think by covering up for espn left wing agenda maybe one of might get hired by St. John Skipper

  • Respected Citizen

    I don’t believe that anyone with a life cares about this. I can’t even imagine watching Tucker Carlson for any reason.

    • inku palios

      Both Tucker Carlson & Clay Travis are the two biggest dicks in the conservative news media.

      • suse

        Tucker tells the TRUTH. You are obviously a leftist.

        • Deon Hamner

          a leftist? Because someone says something true about two loud mouths… One thing this country needs is less loud mouths on tv channels.

          • suse

            THAT is what you got out of that? Not that ESPN pulled an Asian man from calling a game and they are reporting the absurdity??? I guess you support your buddy Kaepernick. :/

          • Deon Hamner

            Funny you question my reading skills, where clearly it states in the article that the announcer made the call to switch. Second, I’m a 49er fan and I wanted Kap gone, years ago. But I respect his right to protest in a non-violent manner. Keep making assumptions dumbass…

          • suse

            Dumbass, racist, bigot . . . anything else? Those words are “nothing burgers,” now that you guys have nothing left BUT name-calling. Sad . . . 🙁

          • Deon Hamner

            Nothing left because I just made you look like a dumbass. But yet you continue to speak?! Keep coming troll..

          • suse

            Yea, yea, yea . . . troll, Nazi, etc. Anything else? Triggered, much? Lol!

          • Deon Hamner

            You using those terms… Pretty sad, #SAD when you have to LOL you on own comments…

        • namingrightsforsale

          yes he definitely always tells the truth:

          https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2017/02/15/the-stupendously-dishonest-tucker-carlson/

          He’s a hack who uses deceit and confusion to create a show designed to seem cool while obscuring its basis in falsehoods.

      • namingrightsforsale

        they are leeches on society, really. spreading misinformation for personal benefit (and then bragging about it like the latter is prone to doing when his insecurity gets particularly hard for him to suppress) is morally repugnant.

  • BobLee Says

    No truth to rumor I am changing my website from BobLeeSays.com to RobertELeeSays.com … I am, however, considering either StonewallLeeSays.com or, my personal favorite John”GrayGhost”MosbyLeeSays.com … I have a call into to John Skipper (UNC’75) requesting his advice. …. JebStuartLeeSays.com has a nice ring to it too…???

    • whittx

      Is JubalEarlyLee Says available?

  • nbtx27

    Afraid of his own name. Not welcome in certain cities because of his name? Total BS. There is something really really wrong about this. Funny that the liberal media is ok with (ignoring) this treatment of an American of asian descent.

    • Edward Greene

      You mean the treatment of a company going up to an employee and asking, “Hey are you comfortable about this situation?”, the employee responding, “No, not really, and I’d like a switch,”, and the company accommodating their employee? Yeah that’s pretty awful.

      • nbtx27

        Why would you be uncomfortable about your own name? What situation? It’s his damn name.

        • Edward Greene

          Ok. So. You’re a super young PBP guy and you’re getting to call a game for ESPN. And it’s not just some MAC-SWAC game. It’s a game at an ACC-school (UVa, granted, but still). You get there, do tons of research, have a great cast, and at the end of the day, feeling good, you decide to check your Twitter feed. And you see hundreds if not thousands of tweets cracking jokes about how someone named Robert Lee is calling a game in the town where like two weeks ago a gigantic rally happened (supposedly) in the name of a statue of a confederate general that shares your name. A rally in which someone died. You’d probably feel kind of crappy after that. And understandably so! So instead of wanting to go through that, you ask to go to a different site. It sucks this got out at all, because if he had just shown up at Pitt and called his game, this would probably have never been a story. I feel bad for him, as a former PBP with dreams of making it big myself, and I kinda feel bad for ESPN that they got put in this no-win choice to being with.

          • Nathan Walter

            They had a choice and it was this: “Bob, you can either do this game, or none.”

            There are zero people dumb enough to think there is some connection between an Asian-American man with a very common name and a confederate general who has been dead for well over a century. Literally zero.

            Is it oddly coincidental? Yes. Unfortunately coincidental In the same way, so is WBAL’s Gerry Sandusky, who broadcasts Ravens games. Gerry stayed on the air during the whole Penn State scandal. He never left or took a break, even in the midst of death threats his family received.

            Whether it was Bob’s decision or ESPN’s (I still doubt the narrative this was Bob’s decision), this whole thing is beyond silly and ESPN deserves to be relentlessly mocked for it.

          • nbtx27

            Not disagreeing that it should not have been made public, but now we know the moronic thinking regarding a guy’s name. His name. An Asian name. Should he now change it to fit a currenly politically correct climate?
            No. Should we question the decisionmakers at ESPN. Absolutely.
            Of course no one will be critical of ESPN’s decisions.

      • Nathan Walter

        It was likely mutual in the sense of “hey, Bob, we’re switching you from UVA to another game.”

        Bob, “so you mean I don’t get to broadcast the home opener of a team that went 2-10 last year… versus a FCS school? I can’t say I’m upset.”

        Or something along those lines.

      • nbtx27

        OK not afraid, ashamed! That is worse.

  • sportsfan365

    No surprise that Awful Announcing would again try to justify the actions of the leftist morons at ESPN, the only surprise is that the author wasn’t Andrew Bucholtz.

  • Waquoit

    “If Lee did broadcast the game, some viewers would likely have taken offense to the one-in-a-100,000 coincidence.”

    Only idiots and trolls would have taken offense. It’s insane these people are given any consideration.

    • BeansNRice

      Since cherry picking 4 comments of Twitter became “news” and a reporting tactic, I’m not surprised this is how ESPN acted, to forestall an outburst that is imaginary or may never happen. That’s how liberals think.

  • Nathan Walter

    In an odd turn of events, the residents of Charlottesville lined the streets this evening shouting, “We want Bob Lee! We want Bob Lee!”

  • John Danknich

    Political correctness run amok. This is what the country will be like if the hard Left ever takes control.

  • Nathan Walter

    I imagine the event of the switch playing out:

    Bob: [opens email, sees Pitt-Youngstown State opening]… (thinks to himself), hmm, I’m doing Virginia (2-10) vs. William & Mary (5-6 in FCS). This opening would be a much better game. How do I convince them to get me to switch.

    Bob, to ESPN: So, ummm, I’m uncomfortable, ummm, about my name and ummmm, the events in Charlottesville. But you know, there’s that Pitt-YSU game available wink, wink”

    ESPN: Perfect. It’s yours. Instead of quietly switching you, we’ll make a big scene about it and become the mockery of the internet. How’s that sound, Bob?”

  • pint_of_porter

    Anyone who might be offended by this man doing play-by-play — based only on his name — is simply an idiot, and this is coming from a proud leftist. You want to eliminate something really offensive? Keep Brock Huard off the air. And Brent Musberger.

  • Laquan Hill

    Wow just when you think things cant get any worse. This man may have a family to feed and bills to pay but these effin idiots want to take that away from him because of his name? So maybe he should change it to Chauncey, Peanut or Stanka so he can get his job back.

    • Nathan Walter

      They didn’t fire him, they moved him to a different game.

      • Laquan Hill

        ok my bad. Thanks for the clarification.

  • Nathan Walter

    And yet, ESPN airs Bob Ley, who shares a name with a Nazi leader.

    Let’s show some consistency, ESPN.

  • Matthew Birmingham

    I worked for the Florida Gator Radio Network for three games including the SEC Title game vs Alabama back in ’95. Perhaps I should be glad Florida football Coach Steve Spurrier wasn’t aware of my last name.😆

  • Adam Domo

    espn blew it on this one. No one in the world would notice the announcers name for a virginia foobtall game

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  • kelly

    A pure publicity stunt. Corporate America has no shame

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