ESPN Won’t Air Anthem Before Monday Night Football

ESPN won't air the National Anthem before regular season games this year, but that probably won't stop the President from ranting about it.

ESPN announced late last week that it would not broadcast the National Anthem during Monday Night Football, marking the latest development in a story that has lasted for two seasons now:

ESPN said on Friday that it would not show the national anthem before the “Monday Night Football” games it broadcasts this season, even as the debate over player protests continues.

Though the N.F.L. has been criticized by President Trump, sponsors and fans for not penalizing players who kneel during the anthem, Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN’s president, told reporters the league did not pressure the network. Pitaro said the N.F.L. was informed of the decision as a courtesy.

This was consistent with how ESPN handled similar situations in prior years, he said.

As the article goes on to note, this has largely been ESPN’s policy in the past, and it would be largely consistent with the manner in which the other networks that carry NFL games on Thursdays and Sundays have acted in the past. Prior to the start of the anthem controversy two years ago, the only time one generally saw the Anthem aired live was at the start of playoff games and the Super Bowl. When either CBS or Fox have aired Sunday games from London, as has become the practice several times a year during the season over the past several years, they have generally aired the National Anthem but that has often been because it was being sung by a celebrity of some sort. Additionally, it’s worth noting that it has generally not been the case that television coverage of other sports such as NCAA football, or professional baseball, hockey, or basketball have aired the performance of the Anthem during regular season games. In the specific case of the professional football, it has generally not been the case that CBS, Fox, NBC, or have broadcast the Anthem except on some occasions in the past two years when it had become something of a national news item due to the kneeling protests themselves and, of course, the unhinged attacks against the athletes by the President of the United States.

Indeed while the protests began two years ago when Colin Kaepernick and a handful of other players began kneeling to bring attention to racism and cases of police misbehavior such as the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, it wasn’t until the President got involved in the debate nearly a year ago that this entire controversy really came to the national consciousness. It began during a campaign speech in Alabama in late September when Trump went after the players who were kneeling during the Anthem, calling them “sons of bitches” and calling on the league and/or the teams to fire or otherwise discipline players who don’t stand for the Anthem. While Trump’s tirade was received well by his supporters and by conservatives in general, it was not well received in the league or among the players. Responding to the President, the league, the NFL Players Association, and basically, all the team owners voiced support for the protesting players. Additionally, the weeks immediately after the President’s statement saw the kneeling protests expand as players of all races either knelt during the Anthem or engaged in some other form of showing solidarity with those players who chose to do so. It was during this period that Vice-President Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game when some players knelt during the Anthem, in what was obviously a staged photo opportunity by the White House to further stir the pot. Several weeks later, the league announced that it would not discipline players who continued to kneel during the Anthem, and polling in both September and October showed that most Americans opposed the position taken by the President.

In May, the N.F.L. announced a new policy aimed at reducing the controversy, and possibly even ending it altogether. Under this new policy, players would not be required to be on the field during the playing of the National Anthem. If they were, though, they would be required to stand, and failure to do so would result in fines being imposed on the player and, potentially, the entire team depending on the level of participation. At the same time, though, the league stated that players could choose to remain off-field during the Anthem, either in the locker room or in the tunnel underneath the stadium out of view of the fans on the field. President Trump responded by saying that the new policy was not sufficient, that players who declined to stand should be fired, and that anyone who declined to stand for them Anthem should leave the country. The new policy also did not sit well with the N.F.L. Players Association, albeit for different reasons, and that organization filed an official grievance alleging that the policy had been announced in violation of the provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement agreed to between the league and the union. Because of this grievance, as well as complaints by players and teams about the new policy, the league decided last month to put the new policy on hold.

As I have said all along, the ideal solution to all of this would be for the league to return to its previous policy regarding the National Anthem, which provided that the teams did not take the field until after the performance of the National Anthem. Generally speaking, the only exceptions to this rule came during playoff games and the Super Bowl when the performance of the Anthem was part of the show, and generally performed by a celebrity of some note or another. This would remove the Anthem from being a point of controversy, and keep the league out of a political controversy that has been exploited by the President of the United States because he believes that stirring the pot on this issue will help Republicans in the fall by helping to energize the party’s base. At the very least, keeping the players off the field would prevent the President from using them and the league as a political whipping post and not airing the Anthem at all would mean that there would be nothing for the President to rant about, although that probably won’t stop him.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Entertainment, Politicians, Popular Culture, Sports, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. MBunge says:

    Doug Mataconis ranting about Donald Trump ranting? It must be a day ending in “y” on Outside the Beltway.


  2. lounsbury says:

    The policy return to teams coming out après seems like the best play in the end.

    And Bunge making some utterly pathetic fumble of a failed attempt at clever trolling… yes, any time he posts.

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    There’s a solution to this: Trump could stop ranting like a terrified rat trying to squeal his way out of a trap. Next time don’t elect a weak, corrupt coward and we won’t have to listen to him, or to Doug commenting on him. Right?

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Or bunge could just stop coming around.

  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    Always remember that Trump’s ranting, whatever the subject, is intended as a distraction from either his criminality, incompetence or to reduce coverage of the heinous acts being perpetrated by his administration.

  6. Mister Bluster says:

    REPUBLICAN President WhistleDick Don:..I have nothing to hide!

    Oh Say Can You See Trump’s Tax Returns?

  7. al Ameda says:

    We’re a nutty country these days.

    (1) If you’re watching at home, The Anthem is, and always has been,
    a great time to turn of the sprinklers, or put out the recycling, maybe take a bathroom break, or grab some food to bring into the Flat Screen room. This is why watching at home coming to be preferable to attending the game.

    (2) If you’re there – at the stadium, in person – when The Anthem is up, please refrain from looking around, please concentrate on the Flag, with hand over heart. Your president demands it.

  8. Mr. Prosser says:

    It used to be the time to stand in line and get the beer and things and then get to the seats. Now the concessions shut down until it’s over.

  9. Slugger says:

    One thing that I have learned from the anthem at football games is that four out of five professional singers can’t actually do it. The demands of the tune are just too tough. Whitney Houston delivered a note for note perfect rendition. Lady Gaga was quite good. That cop with the operatic voice who does it when the Yankees are in the World Series is good. However, a lot of people do lots of acrobatic warbling and use falsetto because it’s just too tough.

  10. barbintheboonies says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: If he did stop coming around you would all be spouting the SOS to each other.

  11. Tyrell says:

    As stated, MNF has not usually shown the anthem. Many televised sports do not.
    Too many singers try a variation on the anthem and end up sounding like nails on a chalkboard.
    Some events substitute “America”. My favorite is the Ray Charles rendition.
    “Gentlemen, start your engines!” One of the best moments in sports.

  12. Mister Bluster says:

    It’s not like anyone volunteered you all to participate in this donnybrook.

    What am I doin’ here?
    Please Mr. Custer, I don’t want to go…

  13. Leonard says:

    @barbintheboonies: You should have seen the Pope thread yesterday. They were complaining that someone upvoted a comment they didn’t like. They were trying to guess who it was. They hate it that other people have access to their site.