ESPN pulled announcer Robert Lee from broadcasting the University of Virginia football games because of his name’s similarity to Confederate general Robert E. Lee. According to the network, the decision was made in light of the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, which saw gatherings of white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
“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 obtained by Sports Illustrated. “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.”
The network did not specify whether this had already become an issue with fans. Fox Sports reporter Clay Travis, who was one of the first to confirm the news, called the move “ridiculous” and “absurd.”
The rallies in Charlottesville began the night of Aug. 11, when people carrying lit tiki torches marched on the university’s campus to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, and many began spewing Nazi dogma. A day later on Aug. 12, riots sparked between counter protesters and the assembled white supremacists and neo-Nazis, resulting in the death of a protester when a man drove his car into a crowd.
An ESPN spokesperson told SI that the decision regarding Lee was not mandated by executives and reassignments happen all the time.
See Lee in action above.