ESPN, Citing Safety, Says Robert Lee Won’t Broadcast Virginia Football Game

Matthew Haag
Mike Windle | ESPN | Getty Images

ESPN has removed an announcer from its broadcast of the University of Virginia's first football game next month because he has the same name as a Confederate general memorialized in statues that are being taken down across the country.

The network announced late Tuesday that the announcer, Robert Lee, a part-time employee who calls about a dozen college football and basketball games a year for ESPN, would no longer participate in the broadcast of the Sept. 2 game in Charlottesville, Va., which became the center of violent clashes this month during a white supremacist gathering.

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White nationalists and neo-Nazis flooded into Charlottesville, marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches, to protest the city's plan to remove a statue of the Confederacy's top general, Robert E. Lee.

After the violence in Charlottesville, which left one person dead, ESPN executives and Mr. Lee decided that for his safety it would be best to have him to work on a different game that Saturday, a network spokesman said.

"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."

Mr. Lee did not return a call seeking comment. The website Outkick the Coverage reported on Mr. Lee's removal on Tuesday afternoon.

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