White nationalists rallied earlier this month against a proposal to take down a Robert E Lee statue in Charlottesville, and clashed with counter-protesters. One woman was killed after a man crashed his car into a crowd of anti-racism counter-protesters.
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 yesterday that Lee was pulled from the September 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.
Just received this email from an ESPN executive re the Robert Lee controversy. pic.twitter.com/OuBORlWO9f
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) August 23, 2017
The network originally planned for Lee to work during the University of Virginia’s game against the College of William and Mary.
A growing number of US political leaders have called for the removal of statues honouring 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.”
Yo @ESPN, I think viewers will know the difference between Robert E Lee the confederate general and Robert Lee the football announcer. pic.twitter.com/sMO86DMGOl
— Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) August 23, 2017
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.
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