ESPN Made the Right Call on Robert Lee

The veteran broadcaster was pulled from calling a UVA game in Charlottesville because he shares the same name as a Confederate Army general.

It’s been a trying year for ESPN. For starters they cut ties with many high profile journalists in a series of layoffs back in April — their second staff purge in two years — and now another dilemma, over an unfortunate coincidence.

The man at the center of the controversy is Robert Lee — a name in the news for all the wrong reasons given the recent tragic events in Charlottesville — but the Robert Lee in question here is not the general of the Confederate Army who fought for succession. This Robert Lee is an innocent broadcaster, whose namesake is the only thing connecting him to the tragedy and brutality seen in Virginia over the last week.

As I said initially, he’s the victim of an unfortunate coincidence.

ESPN pulled Lee from calling a University of Virginia football game — which will ironically enough be played in Charlottesville — with ESPN President John Skipper citing Lee as a “poor choice” to call the game considering his aforementioned namesake and the poor timing from the recent unrest.

Skipper would go on to say the choice to pull Lee was made in order to not “expose him to social hectoring and trolling.”


The decision to pull Lee isn’t one that all agree with, but regardless of where anyone may stand in terms of their political views, the truth of the matter is it was the only choice. This is the classic case of being stuck in between a rock and a hard place.

Nevertheless, some have lambasted ESPN for their alleged “overreaction to the situation.”

When it comes to politics, I don’t lean left, right, or center. I’m a neutral man. But in seeing this situation, I can’t help but side with Mr. Skipper. There were only two options here. One was to catch flack, as is happening now. The other was to sacrifice their broadcaster to the meme zoo known as Twitter.

In pulling Lee, ESPN isn’t protecting him from the rational viewer. They’re protecting him from the irrational and immature. This isn’t an easy position to be in for either Lee or the company. For the record, he’s a 20-year veteran of broadcasting who calls roughly a dozen games for the network each year. He hasn’t commented on the situation. However, ESPN did say in a statement that they made this decision after consulting with Lee.

The statement released by ESPN also said something else that’s both sad and true:

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.”
Follow Mike Colon on Twitter @Colon_GSN