An ESPN announcer with the same name as Confederate General Robert E. Lee has been removed from an upcoming broadcast of a University of Virginia football game in the aftermath of the deadly violence in the college town over a Lee statue, according to the cable sports channel.
White nationalists rallied earlier this month against a proposal to take down a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, and clashed with counterprotesters. One woman was killed after a man crashed his car into a crowd of anti-racism counterprotesters.
The decision to remove announcer Robert Lee, which sparked anger on social media, was made for safety reasons, ESPN spokeswoman Keri Potts said. Sports media website Outkick the Coverage broke the story on Tuesday that Lee was pulled from the Sept. 2 game to avoid offending viewers.
“When the protests in Charlottesville were happening, we raised with him the notion of switching games,” ESPN spokesman Chris LaPlaca said. “We didn’t make him. We asked him. Eventually we mutually agreed to switch.”
Attempts to reach Lee for comment were unsuccessful.
The network originally planned for Lee to work during the University of Virginia’s game against the College of William & Mary.
A growing number of U.S. political leaders have called for the removal of statues honoring the Confederacy. Civil rights activists charge the statues promote racism while advocates contend they are a reminder of their heritage.
“This wasn’t about offending anyone,” ESPN said. “It was about the reasonable possibility that because of his name he would be subjected to memes and jokes and who knows what else.”
ESPN rescheduled Lee to work during Youngstown State’s game at the University of Pittsburgh on the same date, Potts said.
#RobertLee was the second top-trending topic on Twitter on Wednesday as social media users expressed anger over ESPN’s decision to remove him.
“Robert Lee announcing the UVA game in the wake of #Charlottesville could have been the ‘Eff you, Nazis’ we needed right now. #espn,” wrote user Akilah Green on Twitter.
Lee has worked part-time as a play-by-play college sportscaster for the ESPNU and ESPN3 channels since September 2016, according to his LinkedIn page.
(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)