Sports broadcasting titan ESPN is combating the political debate surrounding NFL players’ decisions not to stand for the national anthem before every league game, announcing last week it will not broadcast the pre-game ceremonies during its weekly showings of “Monday Night Football.”
The plan was announced by ESPN Network President Jimmy Pitaro, who noted that the policy not to broadcast the anthem was made prior to this season.
“We generally have not broadcasted the anthem and I don’t think that will change this year. Our plan going into this year is to not broadcast the anthem,” he said. “Again that could change. It’s unpredictable what could happen in the world but as of now, we’re not. We have communicated that back to the [NFL]. They have not asked but as a courtesy and good partners, we have let them know what our plans are.”
While Pitaro denied any political leanings his network might have, he made clear it would cover anything deemed newsworthy. “It’s not our job to [cover] politics, purely, but we’ll cover the intersection of sports and politics,” Pitaro said. “When something happens, when Eagles are disinvited from White House, when someone takes a knee, if we think it’s newsworthy we’re going to cover it.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, ESPN made some exceptions to their no-anthem broadcast policy last year, including the broadcasts on Sept. 11, the day after the Las Vegas shootings, and the first Monday after President Donald Trump first began expressing his disapproval for players who kneeled during anthem.
ESPN’s policy is the most any network can do to appease football fans who feel disrespected by the players protesting their anthem. But the problem is long from solved. Its root needs to be addressed by NFL owners themselves. Time will tell whether ESPN’s announcement will bring increased football ratings, but fans who regularly attend games in person will still have to deal with players kneeling during “The Star Spangled Banner.”