- Thomson Reuters
ESPN president John Skipper sent a memo to staff Wednesday to respond to criticism that came after the network’s decision to remove a football announcer named Robert Lee was from an assignment at the University of Virginia because of his name.
The move was made in the wake of the recent protests in Charlottesville, but conservative commentators criticized ESPN for what they deemed political correctness gone awry, in part because Lee is Asian-American.
Clay Travis of the sports website Outkick the Coverage broke the news Tuesday in an article with the headline “MSESPN Pulls Asian Announcer Named Robert Lee Off UVa Game To Avoid Offending Idiots.” “MSESPN” is a reference to what critics view as ESPN’s liberal bias along the same lines of MSNBC.
A statement from an anonymous ESPN executive said the decision was simply made to avoid Lee becoming the subject of “memes and jokes and who knows what else.“
Skipper went further in explaining the decision, saying it was made by a production staff outside of Bristol, that Lee had expressed concern with the assignment, and blaming the hoopla over the decision on ‘someone with a personal agenda.'”
Here is the memo, via Brian Stelter of CNN:
“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 person with a “personal agenda” is likely a reference to Travis, who has often been critical of ESPN, but could also be the person who leaked the original news to Travis and mischaracterized the reasoning behind the move.
The Virginia Cavaliers’ September 2 game against William & Mary, which Lee was set to broadcast, will be the first game in Charlottesville, Virginia, since a white nationalist rally was held there earlier this month to protest the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.