ESPN's decision to remove broadcaster Robert Lee from the University of Virginia's football season opener because he has the same name as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee backfired.
The network said in a statement that the decision was made "as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name."
As soon as ESPN made their announcement, viewers shared their outrage on social media.
I'm sure his name, #RobertLee has something to do with how he announces a game...where do we draw the line???— Aaron Royalty (@MosCowboy96) August 23, 2017
So @espn pulled an announcer off coverage because his name was Robert Lee.— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) August 23, 2017
Robert Lee is an Asian American with no ties to the confederacy
Wait, @espn actually pulled an Asian announcer named Robert Lee from the booth for the UVa opener?— Garrett McClintock (@GJMcClintock) August 22, 2017
We've reached peak stupid on both sides.
In an era of rampant stupidity, ESPN taking an Asian announcer named Robert Lee off a Virginia football game may be the dumbest idea ever.— Mike Vaccaro (@MikeVacc) August 23, 2017
Hey @espn, show us the person that you think would be offended by an Asian announcer named Robert Lee. I really need to know who is so weak.— Jeff (@JKauf1) August 23, 2017
The fact that some ESPN guy being named Robert Lee is ruffling feathers completely boggles my mind. That is PC level: expert— CW (@cwaugh7) August 23, 2017
@espn you have clearly crossed the line. Seriously?? Changing broadcasters because his name is Robert Lee. WTH? Dumb— Tina-Marie (@TinaTbrennan) August 23, 2017
ESPN pulling announcer named "Robert Lee" from a UVa game isn't "liberal." It's idiotic.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) August 23, 2017
The network's full statement: “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. 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.”
In an internal note to ESPN employees, president John Skipper said the following:
“Given the amount of media attention being generated by one of the countless, routine decisions our local production teams make every day, I wanted to make sure you have the facts. There was never any concern - by anyone, at any level – that Robert Lee’s name would offend anyone watching the Charlottesville game.
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. Since Robert was their primary concern, they consulted with him directly. He expressed some personal trepidation about the assignment and, when offered the chance to do the Youngstown State/Pitt game instead, opted for that game -- in part because he lives in Albany and would be able to get home to his family on Saturday evening.
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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
You can find Sasha Savitsky on Twitter @SashaFB.