ESPN is facing criticism after deciding to take announcer Robert Lee off of a University of Virginia football game simply because his name is similar to the famous Confederate general.
The network came to the decision after a white supremacist rally protesting Charlottesville's planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee turned violent, culminating in a man driving his car into a group demonstrating against the neo-Nazis and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
"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 to The New York Times. "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."
Lee was originally scheduled to announce for the Virginia Cavaliers' first game of the season, but now will announce Youngstown State's game.
The decision quickly dire ire from people online, who blasted ESPN for pulling an Asian-American announcer from a game out of fear of racist backlash.
According to reporter Yashar Ali, who posted an alleged email from an ESPN executive on Twitter, the network claims the decision wasn't about not wanting to offend anyone, but out of fear that Lee would be turned into memes.
"Think about it. Robert Lee comes to town to do a game in Charlottesville. The reaction to our switching a young, anonymous play by play guy for a streamed ACC game is off the charts - reasonable proof that the meme/joke possibility was real," the anonymous exec reportedly wrote.
"No politically correct efforts. No race issues. Just trying to be supportive of a young guy who felt it best to avoid the potential zoo."
Just received this email from an ESPN executive re the Robert Lee controversy. pic.twitter.com/OuBORlWO9f— Yashar Ali (@yashar) August 23, 2017
Clearly, ESPN's decision backfired.