ESPN President Blames ‘Someone With a Personal Agenda’ for Flap Over Robert Lee Replacement

“There was never any concern — by anyone, at any level — that Robert Lee’s name would offend anyone watching the Charlottesville game,” network exec says

ESPN president John Skipper has spoken out about the flap over the decision to replace broadcaster Robert Lee  for its coverage of a football game at the University of Virginia next month, saying that the decision to replace Lee was “intentionally hijacked by someone with a personal agenda.”

In an internal memo Wednesday, Skpper said, “Given the media attention being generated by one of the countless, routine decisions our local production teams make ever day, I wanted to make sure you had the facts. There was never any concern — by anyone, at any level — that Robert Lee’s name would offend anyone watching the Charlottesville game.”

The memo went on to note that Lee — who is Asian-American — was consulted directly about the decision, and that it came about from concern that Lee’s “assignment might create a distraction, or even worse, expose him to social hectoring and trolling.”

“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 professional throughout this episode,” Skipper concluded.

The decision came after Charlottesville, Virginia, was rocked by violence, after white nationalists descended on the town to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

“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. “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.”

The network did not immediately say who would cover UVA’s home opener against William and Mary on September 2.

Read the full memo below.