Trying to avoid one kind of social media backlash, ESPN has stumbled into another with Asian announcer Robert Lee no longer assigned to call the University of Virginia’s home football opener in Charlottesville.
“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.”
White nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members clashed with counterprotesters in Charlottesville earlier this month during protests of the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. A counterprotester, Heather Heyer, was killed and 19 others were injured when a man allegedly linked to neo-Nazi beliefs reportedly drove his car into a crowd.
ESPN clearly didn’t want any sort of repeat of the controversy over an auction segment that Charlottesville unrest cast in a light that disrupted its marathon celebration and promotion of fantasy football last week.