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 sat or kneeled, with some screaming, “Stand up!”
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.
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.
Fans hold the ultimate power over the networks and the league, and they were missing in action during coverage.
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.
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.
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.
In Detroit, a contingent of Lions fans booed their own players when they protested for racial justice, according to the Detroit Free Press.
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.
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.
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.