ESPN drops sports host Robert Lee from Charlottesville football match for sharing name with Confederate general

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A US sports presenter has been dropped from covering an American football match — because his name is similar to a Civil War general at the centre of a race row.

Violent clashes broke out 11 days ago in Charlottesville, Virginia over moves to scrap a monument to General Robert E. Lee, who led the pro-slavery Confederate Army in the 1861-1865 war.

Now a presenter named Robert Lee has been pulled from an assignment to cover a University of Virginia football game for sports network ESPN “because of the coincidence of his name”.

Mr Lee has been switched from the team’s home opener in Charlottesville on September 2 to another game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Riot police stand in front of the statue of General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville (Getty Images)

“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 yesterday.

“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,” ESPN added.

Mr Lee has been a sportscaster since 1999, according to his resume. He joined ESPN last year as a play-by-play announcer for college football and basketball games. He was not available for comment today.

The move drew swift condemnation online, with one person tweeting: “@ESPN if an athlete’s name is Robert Lee are you going to not show their game?”

It came amid a growing debate over the fate of Confederate statues and monuments marking the Southern “heroes” of the American Civil War.

The University of Texas was the latest organisation to remove four Confederate monuments, including one of Robert E. Lee, under cover of darkness on Monday. Baltimore and New Orleans have also pulled down memorials.

Cities across the South are debating whether to remove similar statues. There are still about 700 monuments to America’s slavery past.

Last week, President Donald Trump tweeted: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.”

The President added: “Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson — who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!”

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