ESPN announcer Robert Lee was originally scheduled to work Virginia’s Sept. 2 game at home against William & Mary until a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Lee, who works games for ESPN’s digital channels, had been set to do the play-by-play for the ESPN3 broadcast of the game. According to the network, the two parties made a decision over the weekend of Aug. 12, when a woman counter-protesting the original rally was killed when a protester drove his car into a crowd of counter protesters.
The white supremacists had originally gathered under the guise of protesting Charlottesville’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The University of Virginia is in Charlottesville.
ESPN issued a statement about the decision Tuesday evening.
Here's the statement from ESPN PR: pic.twitter.com/VWuRQLwQvi
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) August 23, 2017
“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,” An ESPN statement said. “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.”
Per Sports Illustrated media reporter Richard Deitsch, ESPN said the decision was made because Lee was “more comfortable” not doing the assignment. There’s no reason to believe ESPN would make that up, and there’s every reason to understand why Lee would be more comfortable doing another game (He will call Youngstown State-Pitt).
After the events in Charlottesville, ESPN and Lee were thrust into a difficult situation that had absolutely nothing to do with them. If Lee stays on the game, social media reaction is undoubtedly swift as soon as the game kicks off and people inevitably would claim that ESPN is insensitive to the context of the situation by having Lee on the call of a game in Charlottesville.
Now, with the news of the decision, a whole other sect of people has become mad online because ESPN and Lee changed the assignment in the first place to try to make the situation as best as it could for all parties involved.
What exactly would you do if you were Lee or ESPN? If you read that question and don’t understand how tough the situation Lee and the network were facing, step back and think it through again. The only right answer involves what’s best for the people directly involved.
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