ESPN has reversed plans not to televise the national anthem prior to tonight’s “Monday Night Football” game after the tragic events that unfolded overnight in Las Vegas. The network will now air the national anthem, followed by a planned moment of silence at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Disney-owned ESPN planned to pass on airing the anthem live this week amid an on-going controversy regarding players kneeling as an act of protest that has emerged as a national conversation. The Sporting News first reported the network’s plans to skip the anthem before the Washington Redskins visit the Kansas City Chiefs this evening.
However, ESPN’s plans changed again after a gunman opened fire at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival, killing at least 58 people and sending more than 400 others to hospitals in the deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history.
ESPN carried the anthem in past seasons but its production team decided not to air it this season, with the intention of devoting more pre-kickoff airtime to discussing key “Monday Night Football” matchups and storylines. That plan hasn’t exactly worked out, as the first “MNF” telecast of the season fell on Sept. 11 -- so the network aired the anthem.
The network did not air the anthem in Week 2 but showed it prior to the Week 3 game when Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones famously joined his team on the field and briefly kneeled before the anthem started. The anthem was among the biggest storylines of the week coming off a series of comments by President Trump that put a spotlight on anthem protestors.
Protesting during “The Star-Spangled Banner" began last season when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick declined to stand prior to a preseason game as a way to bring attention to police treatment of blacks and to social injustice.
Kaepernick is now out of the league and many feel that his controversial protest is the reason why he can’t find employment. On Sept. 22 at a rally in Alabama, President Trump called for NFL owners to fire players who engaged in such a protest. Trump used derogatory terms when referring to the player who protested during the anthem, which resulted in even more protests the following week.
More than 100 NFL players sat, knelt or raised their fists in defiance during the national anthem during Week 3, the first weekend of action following Trump’s rally. Many players went back to business as usual during Week 4, with the vast majority standing during the anthem. Some still took a knee in protest and Oakland Raiders star Marshawn Lynch showed up to his game in an “Everybody vs. Trump” t-shirt.
“MNF” producer Jay Rothman explained that the network wouldn’t show the anthem live during a preseason conference call with reporters, but so far that plan has been scrapped in all but one week. It seems so far that ESPN will continue to air the anthem as long as it’s newsworthy and/or falls on a patriotic anniversary or on the heels of a national tragedy.
ESPN is currently unsure about plans to show the anthem during Week 5.