SPORTS

ESPN: Threat Of Trolls, Not Political Correctness, Prompted Robert Lee Decision

The channel's decision to pull the sportscaster from a Charlottesville game because of his name has prompted a firestorm of controversy.

08/24/2017 06:03 EDT | Updated 08/24/2017 06:05 EDT

ESPN provoked controversy and mockery this week for pulling Robert Lee, an Asian-American sportscaster, from a college football game in Charlottesville, Virginia. But the company insists it made the decision out of concern for its employee’s well-being — and not because of political correctness.

CNN’s Brian Stelter obtained a memo from ESPN President John Skipper saying there had never been “any concern ... by anyone at any level” that Lee’s name ― which he shares with the Confederate general whose statue was the focal point of this month’s white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville ― “would offend anyone.”

Instead, Skipper said production staff were worried that Lee’s assignment to cover a Sept. 2 University of Virginia football game “might create a distraction or even worse, expose him to social hectoring and trolling.”

Lee had personally expressed some “trepidation about the assignment,” Skipper added in the memo, posted on the sports broadcaster’s internal website.

ESPN had shared a similar defense on Tuesday, when its controversial decision about Lee was first reported by Clay Travis, editor of the website Outkick the Coverage.

“We mutually agreed to switch,” an executive at the sports channel told HuffPost contributor Yashar Ali in a statement, referring to Lee. “No biggie until someone leaked it to embarrass us and got their way.”

Travis, a Fox News contributor who has condemned ESPN on several other occasions for what he has deemed liberal bias, said on his website that “multiple Outkick fans inside ESPN” had leaked the Lee news to him.

People on social media had mixed reactions to ESPN’s latest statement on the issue. Some accused the channel of throwing Lee “under the bus,” while others said they were unconvinced by the explanation. 

Some called for ESPN to stick to sports, rather than delving into politics. Others said the attention and media coverage on the matter had gone out of control.

A few, however, said ESPN’s explanation did make sense, though some noted that the channel could’ve been handled the situation better.

Lee himself has remained mum amid the controversy. The sportscaster has not responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment.

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