The University of Virginia in Charlottesville has a home football opener against William & Mary on Sept. 2. ESPN’s airing the game, and had assigned a broadcaster named Robert Lee to play-by-play duties.
That’s since changed, the network announced:
On Aug. 14, a group of white supremacists held a rally in Charlottesville, ostensibly in defense of a statue honoring Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general. An Ohio man named James Fields drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman named Heather Heyer and wounding more than a dozen others.
Leaving Lee on the broadcast would’ve been simple. But at some point, somebody would’ve noticed the fact that a person named Robert Lee was calling a game in Charlottesville, and that would’ve become a joke for hours.
Just received this email from an ESPN executive re the Robert Lee controversy. pic.twitter.com/OuBORlWO9f— Yashar Ali (@yashar) August 23, 2017
ESPN not wanting to be associated with memes that relate back to either the Civil War or a recent act of violence? Reasonable, especially if the solution is to “switch” Lee to a different game. And it’s not like this is a big game.
The response to ESPN’s decision, however, has been ... memes and jokes. Not really a lot that could’ve been done by ESPN to avoid that either way.
Company says that Lee (a young broadcaster who works for ESPN3) was more comfortable not doing this assignment.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) August 23, 2017
ESPN source on the Clay Travis/UVA game brouhaha: There was a sensitivity about Robert Lee, a young, new announcer doing the game...— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) August 23, 2017
...that his intro to CFB broadcasts would be Robert E. Lee memes. ESPN had conversation with him, they mutually decided to switch assignment— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) August 23, 2017
Lee’s LinkedIn profile lists Syracuse as his alma mater and New York as his location, noting he speaks Mandarin Chinese. For ESPN, he’s primarily covered mid-major college basketball games and previously covered various sports for Time Warner Cable in Albany.
And now, an ESPN employee whose name sounds nearly the same as Lee’s:
Rather worried my employee ID/pass may not admit me in the AM. Life, as scripted by @OnionSports.— Bob Ley (@BobLeyESPN) August 23, 2017
Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall spoke after practice recently about the state of his team during the turmoil.
"I was expecting more concern," Mendenhall said, "but most of them are realizing that this is happening from people that are coming in from outside our city and leaving, ... that won't necessarily be their neighbors and their fans. No recruits have said they're no longer coming, no parents are saying they're no longer coming."
Mendenhall said the team's message is one of unity, "embracing diversity and being together, and respecting one another for differences, not separating because of differences."