ESPN pulls sportscaster Robert Lee from Virginia game because of his name

Sportscaster Robert Lee has the same name as Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
Sportscaster Robert Lee has the same name as Confederate general Robert E. Lee.PHOTOS: TWITTER/NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Trying to avoid controversy at all costs, ESPN has created a big one.

The US sports television network yanked Robert Lee as the announcer at a college football game because he has the same name as the Confederate general at the centre of the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month.

The sportscaster was supposed to cover the University of Virginia's season opening game in Charlottesville on Sept 2.

ESPN acknowledged it decided to have him announce another game instead "as the tragic events were unfolding in Charlottesville, simply because of the coincidence of his name."

Robert E. Lee, who died in 1870, was the celebrated commander of the forces of the slave-holding South during the Civil War.

He was the focal point of an Aug 12 rally that drew hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis to Charlottesville to protest plans to remove a statue of the general from a public park.

The protest sparked violent clashes and a woman was killed when a suspected Nazi sympathiser rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

"In that moment, it felt right to all parties" to reassign its sportscaster to another game, ESPN said in a statement.

"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."

But the decision drew biting comments on social media.

"If this society can't tell the difference from 'Robert E Lee' from 150+ years ago to an Asian sportscaster 'Robert Lee' we are in trouble,"@Eric-RaceReview wrote on Twitter.