Avoiding potential controversy over showing players kneeling in protest of racial inequality, ESPN won’t broadcast the national anthem before any Monday Night Football games this year.
“We generally have not broadcasted the anthem and I don’t think that will change this year,” ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro said Friday, according to news site Axios. “Our plan going into this year is to not broadcast the anthem.”
The national anthem had long been a staple of sports games until two years ago, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling to protest racial inequality and police brutality. Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump capitalized on the ensuing firestorm and has railed against the protests ever since.
The furor has put broadcasters 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.
In October, Fox Sports said it would no longer air coverage of the national anthem before NFL games after members of the New Orleans Saints team kneeled before the music began. In January, NBC decided to air the anthem and any protests that accompanied it, although no players kneeled when the anthem was played.
ESPN broadcast the anthem during certain games last year, when it was played alongside events the network deemed newsworthy, such as moments of silence to honor tragedies. Pitaro said that ESPN does not see itself as a political organization.
“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 the Eagles are disinvited from White House, or when someone takes a knee, if we think newsworthy we’re going to cover it.”