The president of ESPN has defended the sports network’s decision to remove an announcer named Robert Lee from coverage of an upcoming University of Virginia football game.

In an internal memo, obtained by CNN, President John Skipper said “there was never any concern” that Lee’s name “would offend anyone watching the Charlottesville game. The concern, Skipper explained, was for Lee and potential social media heckling.

“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,” Skipper said in the memo.


“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.”

The memo follows a report from CNN early Wednesday that ESPN chose to remove Lee from the coverage due to his shared name with Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and the recent violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., where U.Va. is located, meant to protest the removal of a statue of Lee. The decision was met with criticism on social media.

Confederate statues and memorials have come under renewed scrutiny since the violence earlier this month at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville left one counterprotester dead and numerous others injured.

“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,” Skipper added.