ESPN Robert Lee Decision Motivated By Fear of Social Media Backlash, Jason Whitlock Claims [Video]

The ESPN decision to pull broadcaster Robert Lee from the University of Virginia football game was meant to protect the sports network from a Twitter backlash, Jason Whitlock insists. “You can’t be honest in this society anymore as a media person because executives and people running these media corporations live in fear of social media,” the sports journalist declared.

In what became a national and international story that brought ridicule on the network from across the spectrum, ESPN removed play-by-play announcer Lee, an Asian-American, from UVA’s home opener in Charlottesville against William and Mary on September 2 and reassigned him to call the Youngstown State at Pittsburgh matchup because his name is similar to Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Robert E. Lee passed away nearly 150 years ago.

“But a day later it seemed clear that ESPN had blundered by overestimating its ability to keep its and Lee’s decision quiet and underestimating the reaction once it became public,” the New York Times asserted.

The often contrarian Whitlock — the former Kansas City Star and Huffington Post columnist and Ball State University football player — rejoined Fox Sports after two tours of duty with ESPN and now is the co-host of Speak for Yourself, an offering that airs weekdays on Fox Sports 1 at 5 p.m. Eastern time, which appears to be the Fox TV network’s counter-programming to ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption. With views that seldom fit into either the left or right paradigm, Whitlock is a vocal critic of what he considers the inappropriate intrusion of progressive ideology into sports culture. He has previously criticized the traditional media for its addiction to the Silicon Valley social media machine.

Whitlock again appeared on FNC’s Tucker Carlson Tonight(he’s become a frequent guest), this time to react to a memo released by the ESPN president about the Robert Lee controversy and shared on Twitter by CNN’s media reporter (see below).

“ESPN cited ‘social hectoring and trolling’ as the company’s reasoning for ultimately making the switch,” Breitbart News noted.

The FS1 host suggested that the incident has profound implications beyond just a reassessment of who sits behind the mic for one random, early season college football game.

“People at home are mostly laughing about this story, but I actually think it’s kind of serious because it illustrates Silicon Valley’s influence over the American media. This is a Twitter-driven story. ESPN basically acknowledged, ‘we were worried about the Twitter reaction. Were we far enough left on this position to be protected from a Twitter backlash?’ That’s what drove them to make this decision. ‘How much farther left can we move so that Twitter won’t kill us?’ Executives, not just at ESPN, but most acutely at ESPN, are making decisions based off of what type of reaction we’ll get from Twitter, and Twitter is rigged by Silicon Valley to be far left, that’s the only opinion that’s tolerated there. And that’s how these decisions happen.”


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Against the backdrop of the Colin Kaepernick controversy, Whitlock also highlighted the irony as he sees it of ESPN apparently using the distraction-defense for pulling Robert Lee off of the UVA football game.

“If you look at ESPN and the sports media’s narrative on Colin Kaepernick, when the NFL says, ‘We want to avoid the distraction of the Colin Kaepernick, so therefore we don’t want to be associated with,’ they are clobbered and beat up…But when it’s one of their employees who’s a potential distraction, they make the same damn decision as the NFL. That’s the hypocrisy…”

Watch the entire Jason Whitlock interview clip below and draw your own conclusions.

Writing at his Outkick the Coverage blog, Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis — who first broke the ESPN Robert Lee story after it was leaked to him by ESPN employees and who often derisively refers to the network as “MSESPN” — also contended that social media provides a distorted picture of real-world sentiments.

“With the Robert Lee mess this week ESPN specifically says they made the decision to move him off the University of Virginia game to avoid a few jokes and memes on Twitter. This means they were making a decision to try and protect their brand because they were worried about the 1% of people — and that’s probably too high of a number — who would ridicule them on social media instead of the 99% who wouldn’t care. In so doing ESPN managed to alienate 100% of the people…They’ve been worried about placating the vocal minority on Twitter instead of serving the vast majority of their audience which never engages on social media.”

As a slight digression, longtime ESPN anchor Bob Ley pronounces his last name as “Lee,” and Robert Lee’s replacement on the UVA football game telecast, Dave Weekley, presumably pronounces the second syllable of his last name as “Lee.”

Do you think that ESPN overreacted in the way it handled the Robert Lee decision as it relates to his play-by-play duties for the upcoming UVA football game?

[Featured Image by Ryan M. Kelly/AP Images]