Credit ESPN, via YouTube
ESPN has removed an announcer from its broadcast of the University of Virginia’s first football game next month because he has the same name as a Confederate general memorialized in statues that are being taken down across the country.
The network announced late Tuesday that the announcer, Robert Lee, a part-time employee who calls about a dozen college football and basketball games a year for ESPN, would no longer participate in the broadcast of the Sept. 2 game in Charlottesville, Va., which became the center of violent clashes this month during a white supremacist gathering.
White nationalists and neo-Nazis flooded into Charlottesville, marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches, to protest the city’s plan to remove a statue of the Confederacy’s top general, Robert E. Lee.
After the violence in Charlottesville, which left one person dead, ESPN executives and Mr. Lee decided that for his safety it would be best to have him to work on a different game that Saturday, a network spokesman said.
“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,” ESPN said in a statement. “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.”
Mr. Lee did not return a call seeking comment. The website Outkick the Coverage reported on Mr. Lee’s removal on Tuesday afternoon.
Before the demonstrations in Charlottesville, ESPN had planned for Mr. Lee to be in the announcer’s booth for the Virginia Cavaliers’ first game of the season, against the College of William and Mary, which will be broadcast on the ACC Network. Mr. Lee will instead announce Youngstown State’s game against the University of Pittsburgh, which will appear on the same network.
Mr. Lee, whose full-time job is at a payroll services company in Albany, started announcing games for ESPN and its other networks last fall, according to his LinkedIn page. For the past 17 years, he has also announced men’s basketball games for Siena College in Albany. He graduated from Syracuse University in 1999 with a degree in broadcast journalism.
The move by ESPN drew swift condemnation online, from people who called the decision absurd and said it was political correctness run amok.