ESPN will not show the national anthem during “Monday Night Football” broadcasts this year, the company’s president said on Friday. Jimmy Pitaro addressed the controversy at ESPN’s annual football media day.
Pitaro was asked by a reporter if he spoke to the NFL about the rule changes and the national anthem and if he would consider “turning the cameras on an athlete that’s kneeling for the anthem.”
“We generally have not broadcasted the anthem and I don’t think there’s going to be any change this year. Our plan going into this year is to not broadcast the anthem,” Pitaro said.
“Again, there could be changes. It’s somewhat unpredictable what’s going to happen in the world but as of now our plan is to not broadcast the anthem. We have communicated that back to the NFL. They have not asked but we proactively just as a courtesy and as good partners let them know what our plans are,” he continued.
The network also did not air the national anthem during last season’s “Monday Night Football” broadcasts.
Stephanie Druley, ESPN’s senior vice president of event and studio production, said the network showed the national anthem three times last year: following Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, the Las Vegas massacre and President Trump’s comments on the national anthem protests.
When asked what the most inaccurate perception of ESPN is, Pitaro said it was branding the network a “political organization.”
“That we’re a political organization because we are not. We are a sports media company. We are always going to cover the intersection between sports and politics,” he said.
He continued to explain that the network covered things that were “newsworthy.”
“We are the place of record for sports when something happens, when the Eagles are disinvited to the White House, we are going to cover that. When someone takes a knee and we think it’s newsworthy we’re going to cover it. But we have to be the place of record,” he explained.
ESPN’s president said he was not worried about losing a contract with the NFL, saying the media outlet and the league have a “strong relationship.”
“We want to be in business with the NFL and I believe they want to be in business with us. We’re optimistic about not just about the next four years but for the long-term partnership.”
The remarks come just months after the NFL adopted a policy that would fine teams and league personnel who do not “stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.” However, the policy was put on hold as the NFL and NFL Players’ Association negotiated the strategy.
The kneeling triggered fierce debates and criticism from Trump, as well as many Americans across the country. The national anthem had long been a staple of sports games until two years ago, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the 2016 season to protest racial inequality and police brutality.
The furor has put broadcasters in a difficult spot. If they broadcast protests during the anthem, they risk adding to the controversy. If they don’t show the anthem, they face criticism from people who support the kneeling players, as well as patriotic Americans who want to see the anthem being broadcast.
- Wire services