By Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley, AFRO Sports Desk
Sports media conglomerate ESPN announced on Friday that it will not air the national anthem before Monday night NFL games this upcoming season. ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro issued a statement on Friday detailing the networks plans but didn’t reveal a reason. It’s presumed that the network is attempting to avoid conflict with some fans growing aggravated over the amount of protests still growing amongst NFL players. Despite attempts to curtail protests with team anthem rules, players have still found ways to kneel during anthems in the preseason, forecasting what’s expected to be another tension-filled NFL season. Players kneeling during the opening game anthem has been a source of contention for several critics, including leading hater Donald Trump. But with ESPN shutting the airplay down on nonconformity, is this a good thing or bad thing for the league? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO SportsDesk debate.
Green: With ESPN trying to sweep a bigger-than-the-network problem under the rug, it’s doing nothing but provoking players even more to express themselves. Players are resilient and with open access to social media, networks choosing to try to mute player protests could just be opening up a can of worms for some other display. I understand the critics and boosters that back ESPN need to appeased and Trump needs to be pacified, but trying to hide this topic behind a commercial series isn’t going to help anybody. The league and all of its networks need to be tackling the bigger issues head on.
Riley: It will always be about the almighty dollar and as long as ESPN and the NFL keep making money off high-salaried boosters who potentially carry some White empowerment feelings over the flag, then ESPN needs to do whatever it can to keep the money pumping. I get it. If covering up burning social issues in America is what it takes to maintain its audience and money stream, then that’s what the NFL needs to do. At the end of the day, I get both the players and the NFL, but what the players need to understand is the football field is not the place to bring their personal preferences. Being a professional athlete means being able to leave the personal feelings at the door when you check in. I can’t openly rant and go off on views of Trump at my workplace so why should the NFL? ESPN has a right to stop the broadcasts.
Green: Being a professional athlete also means that you help inspire and influence millions of followers and fans, so if there’s something in America that’s not right, then why not express how you feel while you have the national stage? We often want athletes to just “shut up and dribble,” but just like LeBron James has proved, that shouldn’t be the case. You can’t ask the players to stay in their lane while it’s okay for the president to swerve in and out of traffic regularly. Athletes have a duty to inspire, and regardless of how critics interpret the meaning of players kneeling during the anthem, the sole purpose has always been in retaliation to Black oppression. Of course ESPN wants to sweep this under the rug.
Riley: Players, Trump and the NFL have turned American football into a racial minefield. Everybody from top to bottom has handled this wrong. It’s gotten to the point where we talk more about the national anthem than actual football. Injustice in America has been around for centuries, but it wasn’t until recently that players decided to take a knee and voice something about it. Neither the NFL nor the players are to blame for social injustice in America ,but yet the league and its players have materialized into symbolisms of racism. The sad thing is player kneeling has done more harm than good from a political standpoint and unfortunately, players can’t see that. Who will be smart enough to acknowledge that a new outlet is needed as anthem protests have grown outdated and useless?