ESPN President Says Station Wanted to Protect Robert Lee From Trolling as He Defends Pulling the Asian-American Sportscaster From Charlottesville Football Game
Gareth Davies and Keith Griffith, Daily Mail, August 24, 2017
The ESPN president has revealed he wanted to protect Asian-American sportscaster Robert Lee from trolling when the station pulled him from a Charlottesville football game because he shares same name as a Confederate general.
Lee was meant to call University of Virginia’s home opener in Charlottesville, Virginia against William and Mary on September 2, but has been transferred to cover Youngstown State at Pittsburgh, an ESPN official told DailyMail.com.
Initially, an official statement by the station stated the coincidence of the name had been the reason for the switch, but now more light has been shed on the controversy in a leaked memo circulated to staff by John Skipper.
Lee’s name is almost exactly the same as Confederate general Robert E. Lee, whose monument was at the center of a rally ten days ago that devolved into violent clashes between white nationalists and anti-fascists leaving one woman dead.
The memo, seen by CNN, states that there was ‘never concern’ somebody watching would get offended by the sportscaster’s name.
Instead, it said: ‘Among our Charlotte production staff there was a question as to whether – in these divisive times – Robert’s assignment might create a distraction, or even worse, expose him to social hectoring and trolling.
‘Since Robert was their primary concern, they consulted with him directly. He expressed some personal trepidation about the assignment and, when offered the chance to do the Youngstown State/Pitt game instead, opted for that game – in part because he lives in Albany and would be able to get home to his family on Saturday evening.’
Skipper went on to say he was disappointed the ‘good intentions’ of his colleagues in Charlotte had been ‘hijacked’ by someone with a ‘personal agenda’.
The original statement from ESPN read: ‘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.
‘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.’
Robert Lee has been a professional sportscaster since 1999, according to his resume.
He joined ESPN last year as a play-by-play announcer for college football and basketball games.
Lee did not immediately respond to request for comment.
News of the switch, which seemed at first like a satirical riff on current events, came amid massive national controversy over the fate of Confederate monuments, with a special focus on Robert E. Lee.
The University of Texas removed four Confederate monuments, including one of Robert E. Lee, under cover of darkness early Monday.
Duke University did the same to a stone statue of the Confederate general, after vandals defaced it in the entryway to the school chapel in Durham, North Carolina.
Other vandals have taken matters into their own hands, defacing monuments in several states.
The statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville will be covered with black fabric to mourn the death of Heather Heyer, the city council voted on Tuesday.
The 32-year-old woman was killed when a car slammed into a group of people protesting a white nationalist rally in the city.