ESPN is under fire after a staffing decision it made in response to the deadly protests in Charlottesville, Va.
The network decided to pull play-by-play announcer Robert Lee from the opening week Virginia-William & Mary football game over concern about his name. Violence broke out in the city at a so-called “free speech rally” over the weekend of Aug. 11-12 that was heavily attended by white supremacists opposed to the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. A counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was killed when a white supremacist drove into a crowd.
An ESPN executive told USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken the network was worried about Lee turning into a joke and asked the fairly new announcer if he’d like to change games but gave him the option to keep the UVA contest. Lee agreed to the switch nearly two weeks before Tuesday’s news, but the information was leaked to FOX Sports 1’s Clay Travis, who talked about it on FOX News.
“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.”
Journalist Yashar Ali also received an email from an ESPN executive.
ESPN certainly has an issue on its hands, but it’s hard to say whether the decision was right or wrong because it ultimately was up to Lee, who reportedly felt more comfortable making the switch. Lee will announce the Pittsburgh-Youngstown State opener instead.
Thumbnail photo via Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar via USA TODAY NETWORK
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