ESPN President John Skipper on Wednesday defended his network removing an announcer named Robert Lee from an upcoming football game in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“There was never any concern – by anyone, at any level – that Robert Lee’s name would offend anyone watching the Charlottesville game,” he said in an internal memo obtained by CNN.
“Among our Charlotte production staff there was a question as to whether – in these divisive times – Robert’s assignment might create a distraction, or even worse, expose him to social hectoring and trolling,” Skipper added of the Asian-American announcer.
“I’m disappointed that the good intentions of our Charlotte colleagues have been intentionally hijacked by someone with a personal agenda, and sincerely appreciate Robert’s personal input and professionalism throughout this episode.”
ESPN confirmed Tuesday that it had removed Lee off the University of Virginia’s home opener football game scheduled for Sept. 2 in Charlottesville.
“[It’s] simply because of the coincidence of his name,” the sports network said in a statement, according to CNN.
Skipper’s memo added that Lee voiced “some personal trepidation” about his initial assignment and was moved to a separate college football game in Pittsburgh the same day. Lee’s decision to call the Youngstown State University versus the University of Pittsburgh contest, according to Skipper, was made in part to visit his family in New York afterwards. Lee had recently been promoted at ESPN, according to CNN Media, meaning his transfer a sensitive topic there.
White nationalists descended upon Charlottesville earlier this month to protest the removal of a state of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee there. The situation ultimately turned violent, with one person dying after a car drove into a crowd of counter-protesters opposing them. Two Virginia State troopers also died in a helicopter crash that authorities linked to the unrest in Charlottesville.
The incident has sparked national debate over whether Confederate monuments represent racial injustice, valuable U.S. history or both.