With President Donald Trump’s attacks against protesting NFL players still reverberating, the league’s TV partners decided to air live coverage of the national anthem before Week 3 games. Those partners left out a key element of the coverage: crowd shots of angry fans.
Networks typically do not televise the national anthem except for the Super Bowl and other special occasions, but they recognized there would be intense viewer interest this past weekend.
Some fans, if they reacted at all, happily clapped and cheered during protests, but others did not, and they angrily let their home teams know it. The audio mics picked up the boos. Yet the TV networks mostly avoided crowd shots Sunday, so there was never a chance for viewers to see fans jeering players.
A segment of Patriots fans in Foxborough, Mass., for example, nearly booed their own players off the field when some Pats kneeled, with some screaming, “Stand up!”
— AP NFL (@AP_NFL) September 24, 2017
One behind-the-scenes TV staffer at another stadium told Sporting News that camera operators were ordered to avoid crowd shots in case they showed fans counterprotesting the protests.
NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Fox Sports and ESPN pay billions each year to televise live NFL games. The league saw this weekend’s unprecedented anthem coverage as a golden opportunity to demonstrate unity among players, coaches and owners — and opposition to Trump’s comments.
If crowd shots were indeed purposely avoided, it was a wise business decision by the networks not to bite the hand that feeds them their most popular programming, but a weak move from a journalistic standpoint. By covering one of the most significant days in NFL history with rose-colored glasses, the networks cheated viewers. We got an incomplete picture of what really happened in stadiums on Sunday and Monday.
Yes, the main television focus should have been on the players, coaches and owners sitting, kneeling or linking arms. But fans hold the ultimate power over the networks and the league, and they were missing in action during coverage.
CBS spokeswoman Jennifer Sabatelle told Sporting News no one at her network was instructed to ignore the crowd.
“The anthem was covered by each crew in their own way, with many choosing to stay with what was happening on the field,” Sabatelle said. “There was no directive given to not show the fans.”
And yet, fans were not shown, much less interviewed, by NFL networks Sunday.
During ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” telecast of the Cowboys-Cardinals in Glendale, Ariz., play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough noted, “Boos can be heard from this sellout crowd” as Jerry Jones and the Cowboys collectively took a knee.
But we never saw any of these frustrated spectators. Were they booing both teams for protesting? Just booing the visiting Cowboys? Both? We got only one quick shot of a fan holding Old Glory while Jordin Sparks sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The booing at the NFL football game last night, when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees, was loudest I have ever heard. Great anger
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
ESPN declined to comment, but a source said there was no edict from Bristol, that it’s up to the director of the “MNF” game telecast to make the call from the production truck on what shots to use.
During NBC’s telecast of “Sunday Night Football” in Landover, Md., we got plenty close-up views of Raiders and Redskins sitting or linking arms during the anthem. The fans were strictly in the background.
Fans booing Jets and Dolphins players were loud and clear during CBS’s telecast from East Rutherford, N.J. But we never saw them. Instead, we got a lot of field-level shots of linked arms players and saluting police officers.
— Michael McCarthy (@MMcCarthyREV) September 24, 2017
During the singing of the anthem before Giants-Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Fox stuck to up-close, ground-up shots of players, coaches and owners. The only image of fans was one long shot showing them clapping before the network cut to commercial.
Again, the story of fans who were not enamored of Sunday’s anthem protests were out there if TV networks wanted to show us. The reactions of those fans should have been a bigger story.
In Detroit, a contingent of Lions fans booed their own players when they protested for racial justice, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Perhaps it’s unfair to judge networks by strict journalistic standards since they are effectively billion-dollar business partners with the league. But viewers shouldn’t have to go to social media or local newspapers to find out what really happens inside stadiums.
We’re all big boys and girls. The sky isn’t going to fall if networks show the booing of protesting players.
Plenty of people are dubious about the league’s real aim in all of this. Does it really support the players’ rights to protest, or was the emphasis on “Unity” a self-serving PR ploy by a league seeking to deflect attention from the real causes of Kaepernick’s protest?
Deadspin’s Tom Ley, for example, called BS on “Choose Your Side” Sunday: “The NFL is literally using this for brand marketing.”
Next time, the networks showing NFL games should keep it real. Give us the truth, as uncomfortable as that might be, and not the glossy, Hallmark card-version the NFL wants us to see.