President Donald Trump attacked ESPN during a rally Tuesday in West Virginia for the network's recent announcement that it would not broadcast the national anthem before NFL games, according to USA Today.
"You're proud of our country, you're proud of our history, and unlike the NFL, you always honor and cherish our great American flag," Trump told the crowd. "It was just announced by ESPN that rather than defending our anthem, our beautiful, beautiful national anthem and defending our flag, they've decided that they just won't broadcast when they play the national anthem. We don't like that."
What's wrong with that statement?
While Trump is obviously pandering to the crowd with the comments about the anthem, his attack on the network overlooks the fact that it was already ESPN's policy not to broadcast the national anthem. In fact, ESPN only showed the anthem last season in a few exceptional circumstances:
- The 16th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks
- The day after the Oct. 1 massacre in Las Vegas
- The first Monday Night Football after Trump initially attacked players who protested during the national anthem
"We generally have not broadcasted the anthem, and I don't think that will change this year," ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro said last week in his announcement. "Our plan going into this year is to not broadcast the anthem."
Pitaro did note that his stance on the issue could change, so it remains to be seen if Trump's comments will impact ESPN's policy.
Is the anthem still an issue?
It's possible that national anthem protests would cease to be an issue if the league and the president stopped talking about it. Trump has political incentive to play up the controversy, however, the NFL would be best served by leaving it alone, considering how it has fumbled attempts to set a policy.
Only two players knelt during the national anthem during week 1 of the preseason; in week 2, only one player did. Still, the topic lingers, as now Trump has decided that it is ESPN's duty to defend the national anthem against the one or two players who allegedly disrespect it.
Perhaps it's time to let it go.
"We've seen the data from our fans that they like they game, and that's what they want," said ESPN senior vice president Stephanie Druley. "So that's where we will keep our focus."