NBC Sports executive producer Fred Gaudelli says NBC’s cameras will show any players who chose to kneel during the “The Star-Spangled Banner” when the network airs Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4.
“The Super Bowl is a live event, just like ‘Sunday Night Football.’ When you’re covering a live event, you’re covering what’s happening,” said Gaudelli. “So if there are players that choose to kneel, they will be shown live.”
That at first feels like a defendable point of view. They are taking the journalist’s free pass as observers, not participants. The problem is that stance is a lie.
The Super Bowl is American theatre. It is perhaps the most orchestrated live event that takes place in the U.S. today. It is designed, carefully framed, its halftime show meticulously planned and the placement of its ads, which have become key accouterments to the show, are choreographed down to the second. All that surrounds the game is such a pre-written play that even the “fans” who cheer the bands on the field at halftime all have the same wave, the same color clothes or whatever fits the performance.
The Super Bowl is not just some live event journalists are watching. It is a composed affair designed to make us feel a certain way, even to buy certain products—the central product being the NFL.
And that brand has been tarnished. Not simply harmed by the protest Colin Kaepernick began and the NFL players after him who’ve kneeled during our national anthem have continued, but fundamentally damaged by a lack of honesty from the NFL and from many of the networks that broadcast NFL games.
With no check on the players who disrespect the flag, the players who kneel are treated as civil-rights activists—heroes in our culture. Meanwhile, the point of view that the good, ol’ red, white and blue is a symbol of what is best in America, not something to protest, isn’t given a voice.
If NBC focuses a camera in on players who choose not to respect the flag and all it stands for before the big game then they aren’t just showing what happens at a live event, but are making the protest a part of their choreographed show. Might they also, during the anthem, show a group of fans holding signs saying “God Bless America”?
This is at the heart of why fans are turning away from the NFL. It isn’t really because a few players are making this game political. It is rather because in today’s political climate the NFL nor the broadcasters have the guts to challenge these players and to ask them to explain what they are protesting. The NFL and NBC refuse to publicly question if this is really the proper way to protest.
With no check on the players who disrespect the flag, and all it stands for, the players who opt to kneel are instead treated as civil-rights activists—heroes in our culture. Meanwhile, the point of view that the good, ol’ red, white and blue is a symbol of what is best in America, not something to protest, isn’t given a voice.
This is what sportscaster Al Michaels did during a panel at the Television Critics Association winter press tour when he addressed the point that attendance at games has suffered as a result when he said, “There are a lot of empty seats, especially in the beginning of the second half. Most of the seats in most of the stadiums have been sold, but you go to Atlanta, where they just opened up a new stadium. They have behind the lower bowl a 100 yard almost mall. You’ve got stores, you’ve got bars, you’ve got restaurants, you’ve got games for the kids.”
The NFL also attempted to avoid an honest debate when they tried to crassly buy off the controversy by saying they would donate millions of dollars to the United Negro College Fund and Dream Corps.
The NFL is a private organization that can put its money where it wants, but donations aren’t a real answer.
Gaudelli said that if some players kneel during the anthem that the commentators Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth would probably identify the players, say a little about the protests “and then get on with the game.”
That would be a whitewash, which isn’t fair to the players kneeling or standing or the millions and millions of fans. This discussion should honestly take place on news broadcasts where the players and others can talk openly about this as they have their opinions challenged. Trying to do this with a few sentences before the big game is out of Michaels’ and Collinsworth’s expertise and has no place in what is supposed to be a nonpartisan event designed to bring us all together.
The game should be above politics.