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. NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Fox Sports and ESPN pay billions each year to televise live NFL games. The league saw this weekend’s unprecedented anthem coverage as a golden opportunity to demonstrate unity among players, coaches and owners — and opposition to Trump’s comments. If crowd shots were indeed purposely avoided, it was a wise business decision by the networks not to bite the hand that feeds them their most popular programming, but a weak move from a journalistic standpoint. 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. Yes, the main television focus should have been on the players, coaches and owners sitting, kneeling or linking arms. But fans hold the ultimate power over the networks and the league, and they were missing in action during coverage.
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