By now the unfortunate events of #Charlottesville back on August 12 has been digested by the whole nation, with more noise and divisive opinions on it springing from the assignment of blame “on all sides” by President Donald Trump. The rally that sparked the incident was rooted in the grievance of white nationalists in Charlottesville over the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a city park. This was in the wake of similar instances where Confederate symbols and statuary were being taken down in the US. A few days later this went to an unusual and incredible extreme when #ESPN removed a sports commentator from a digitally broadcast game, on account of his name: #Robert Lee.

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Name is the same

The news was first broken by ESPN on the evening of Tuesday, August 22. The network issued a statement relating that, during the course of events in Charlottesville, they decided to have Asian-American commentator Robert Lee, who was scheduled to report on a college football game at the University of Virginia, to switch assignments for the day. It is plain to see the reason for Lee’s name, being a namesake of the Confederate general whose statue at Charlottesville’s Lee Park was the focal point of the white supremacist rally that led to a car running over a crowd of counter-protesters.

ESPN was frank in admitting in its statement that the coincidence of Lee’s name was the only reason they had him switch his play-by-play assignment from the UVa game to another one on September 2.

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Said game was not broadcast on the cable channel itself but only on its digital platform. The network notes that at the time they made the executive decision it seemed like the right call where all parties were concerned. Unfortunately, some quarters had a different opinion about the action.

Embarrassing 'overreaction'

From here the ESPN statement was blown to the public by Clay Travis of “Outkick the Coverage.” Travis discussed the network’s decision with Robert Lee’s re-assignment on Fox News program “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” which then accused the sports network of gross overreaction to the events of Charlottesville and calling them out on its perceived liberal bias. New York Post columnist and “Commentary” editor John Podhoretz accused ESPN of joining the same yowling mob that the network was ostensibly shielding Lee from ridicule by.

Conservatives have long targeted ESPN for their alleged penchant for subtly politicizing its sports coverage and taking sides, rather than remaining neutral, in controversies. They cite this as the reason for the sports cable channel’s decline in viewership, though ESPN points out that a recent study they commissioned indicates that their decreasing numbers had nothing to do with political polarization.