NFL pre-game shows tackle President Trump, national anthem protests
And the rocket’s red glare,
The bombs bursting in air…
Bombs were bursting on the air Sunday.
President Trump’s profane call to NFL owners to fire players who don’t stand for the national anthem brought strong reactions. James Brown on CBS’ The NFL Today called Trump’s comments dismissive, vulgar and divisive. He said they were insensitive and colonizing and reflected a lack of understanding.
Has there ever been a day when a sports show host called out a sitting president in such harsh terms as the nation sat down to watch an afternoon of football?
“This has to be the first time,” Sean McManus told USA TODAY Sports. He is chairman of CBS Sports and executive producer of the NFL on CBS. He said he and other members of his team spoke for an hour and a half Saturday night and decided to show the anthem live in all markets and to give the controversy two segments on the pregame show.
“We had an ‘aha’ moment” about airing the anthems, McManus said, and the pregame show “was more of a news show than a sports show” this time. McManus is a former president of CBS News.
Once upon a time, the national anthem was a perfunctory part of TV packages. Often networks didn’t cover it at all. Sunday, for once, the anthems seemed more important than the games.
Pregame shows told viewers the anthem was coming up next, though such star-spangled promotion is something more associated with Super Bowls in February than regular-season games in September.
Network cameras from FOX also panned the sidelines as the anthems played in stadiums across the land; NBC planned to do the same for its Sunday night game. And the cameras captured varied responses as the anthems played: Some players stood with hands over hearts, some knelt, some stood with arms linked, some stayed in their locker rooms, some raised a fist, some stood with a supportive hand on the shoulders of kneeling teammates.
McManus said Brown has strong opinions on many issues. “It was warranted for JB to speak from the heart,” McManus said. “He writes his copy himself and we give him that latitude.” McManus called Brown’s words on Trump respectful but strong.
The pregame shows were filled with anthem talk. Michael Strahan on FOX NFL Sunday said players feel as if the president told them to stay in their place --- while Terry Bradshaw said the president should stay in his by sticking to issues like North Korea. At halftime FOX offered a quick roundup of the anthem action around the league before Curt Menefee said: “And then they played football.” First-half highlights rolled from there.
Cris Collinsworth, on NBC’s Football Night in America, said Trump should apologize. “They’re not SOBs,” Collinsworth said. “They’re smart, thoughtful guys.”
The first segment on the CBS pregame show featured reaction from its regulars plus special guest Charles Barkley, who did not limit his criticism to Trump. “He got a rousing reception when he said those things,” Barkley said. “So it hurts me that those ignorant folks in Alabama would applaud something so stupid.” Boomer Esiason called the president’s words and tone “a blight on our country.”
The second segment, meant to offer perspective, featured Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and former Raiders executive Amy Trask. She said owners should remember there are people who agree with the president as well as “people who believe players absolutely should protest.”
Rex Ryan said on ESPN that he was angry because he’d supported Trump. “When he asked me to introduce him at a rally in Buffalo, I did that,” Ryan said. “But I’m reading these comments and it’s appalling to me.”
Brian Stelter, on Reliable Sources, CNN’s media show, said the story is important and that race is a key factor in the story “because who Trump chooses to criticize tells us a lot.”
Where the story goes from here, McManus said, depends on the reactions of NFL players and teams --- and what the president says next.
PHOTOS: NFL national anthem protests