ESPN Announces It Will Highlight Pregame Anthem Protests, Singing of 'Black National Anthem'


ESPN plans to highlight player protests during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” social justice activism and the playing of a separate “national anthem” for black Americans in the return of “Monday Night Football” this season, according to a report.

Stephanie Druley, the executive vice president of event and studio production at ESPN, told reporters in a media call that the network “plans to cover any players protesting during the U.S. national anthem, as well as the performance of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ known as the Black national anthem,” Front Office Sports reported Wednesday.

The changes to the “MNF” format will take effect during ESPN’s doubleheader Monday, which features the Pittsburgh Steelers visiting the New York Giants at 7 p.m. EDT followed by the Denver Broncos hosting the Tennessee Titans at 10:15 p.m.

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Druley said she hopes to include all player protests during both games, but the Broncos-Titans game will be time permitting given the late kickoff.

ESPN college football commentator Kirk Herbstreit will call the Steelers-Giants game with network colleague Chris Fowler, while the new “MNF” team of Louis Riddick, Brian Griese, Steve Levy, Lisa Salters, and John Parry will work the Broncos-Titans game.

Herbstreit notably cried on-air on ESPN’s “College GameDay” last week.

Through tears, the football analyst said white Americans “can’t relate” to being profiled by law enforcement and should “listen.”

“This is not OK,” Herbstreit said while weeping. “We gotta do better, man.”

Druley further commented on ESPN’s decision to embrace social justice movements during the NFL season.

“Our policy is to cover the anthem when it’s newsworthy. That’s not going to change,” she said, according to the report.

“We are going to continue as we’ve done with the NBA and the WNBA. We will cover social justice movements, actions, as they happen. We’re not going to shy away from that,” Druley added.

Front Office Sports gave a little more context to Druley’s statements with regard to how ESPN has historically handled the playing of the national anthem:

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“NFL TV partners ESPN, NBC Sports, CBS Sports, and Fox Sports usually only show the American flag color guard and singing of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ before special NFL games, such as opening night or Super Bowl,” it said.

“Networks are typically in a commercial break during pregame ceremonies for regular season games.”

Druley also said on the call that ESPN does not view national anthem protests or social justice movement slogans as “political,” telling reporters, “Look, we’re going to keep our main rule, which is when it intersects with sports, we’re going to cover it, and look, we don’t see the social justice movement as being political. It’s social justice.”

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On whether ESPN will continue to air national anthem protests all season, Druley said the network had not yet made a determination.

“I don’t know. We will make a judgment call every week. But I can tell you that Week 1, that first game, you will see the anthem — and you will see ‘Lift Every Voice,'” she said.

The NFL announced in July that “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which it described as “the Black national anthem,” would be played before “The Star-Spangled Banner” leading up to all Week 1 games.

Front Office Sports reported that CBS Sports also intends to focus on player protests, as the return of kneeling for the anthem is heavily anticipated.

Players have been cleared by the league to wear the names of people killed during encounters with police officers on their helmets when the NFL returns this week.

The league also announced it would paint social justice slogans on football fields.

The first NFL game of the season will be played Thursday night between the Houston Texans and the Super Bowl defending champion Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City.

The Chiefs have banned fans from wearing some traditional team fan items, such as headdresses and face paint, as those displays were apparently found to be offensive to some Native Americans.

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Johnathan Jones has worked as a reporter, an editor, and producer in radio, television and digital media.
Johnathan "Kipp" Jones has worked as an editor and producer in radio and television. He is a proud husband and father.