On May 23, the NFL rolled out its new policy to deal with players kneeling or performing any other form of protest during the national anthem. The policy said that players can stay in the locker room as a protest if they wanted to but if they’re on the field they must or their team will be fined.
When it came to reporting the policy change that evening, ABC and NBC appeared put off by the development. They both seemed to suggest that players kneeling wasn’t unpopular with fans until President Trump spoke out and pushed the inaccurate claim the players weren’t consulted. And neither spoke with players supportive of the decision.
ABC began World New Tonight with the controversial tasing and arrest of an NBA player before getting into the NFL news. “Meantime, the NFL is out tonight with a new policy on the national anthem. Insisting that players on the field must stand for the anthem or that the team will be fined,” announced sensationalist anchor David Muir. “Players taking a knee to protest became a national controversy after President Trump condemned it.”
Reporter Gio Benitez appeared to call into question the timing of the league’s announcement given President Trump’s influence:
The rule change coming two years after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first started kneeling to protest racial inequality and police brutality. President Trump pressuring the league for months. (…) Just days ago, the President praising NASCAR.
“NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell calling the unanimous vote by team owners a compromise, but the NFL Players Association says it was not consulted on this change,” Benitez added. But the assertion the players weren’t consulted wasn’t true. The players were allowed input when they spoke with the owners during last fall’s owner's meeting.
Meanwhile, on NBC Nightly News, they were busy trying to spin the facts behind the NFL’s decision. “Team owners crafted the new rules in a bid to repair PR damage from players kneeling during pregame anthem performances in the name of social justice,” claimed anchor Lester Holt. But he overlooked the fact that kneeling spiked after Trump spoke out, a clear indication it was more about being anti-Trump that the original cause.
“As more players protested, President Trump took sides,” asserted NBC reporter Ann Thompson. “TV ratings fell 10 percent, fans booed players who knelt.” According to her timeline of events, fans really didn’t care about players kneeling before they were compelled by Trump’s lead.
In contrast, CBS Evening News didn’t try to spin the events leading up to the NFL policy change as much as the others and they even played a clip of a player who supported it. “Today, some players, like Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, welcomed the new policy,” noted Jim Axelrod. “I'm glad they came to an agreement, some form or another. I'll be out there standing,” Prescott said.
Disproving the assertions by ABC and NBC that Trump was responsible for the public’s negative attitude, Axelrod recalled how “[a] CBS News poll last September showed a majority of Americans disapproved of kneeling during the anthem.”
The relevant portions of the transcripts are below, click expand to read:
World News Tonight
May 23, 2018
6:34:31 PM Eastern [2 minutes]
DAVID MUIR: Meantime, the NFL is out tonight with a new policy on the national anthem. Insisting that players on the field must stand for the anthem or that the team will be fined. Players taking a knee to protest became a national controversy after President Trump condemned it. Well, tonight, the players say they were not consulted, and at least one team says that if their players kneel, they'll pay for them. Here's ABC's Gio Benitez.
[Cuts to video]
GIO BENITEZ: Tonight, the NFL addressing the controversy over national anthem protests, announcing a new policy.
BENITEZ: Under the new rules, players may stay in the locker room during the star spangled banner. But if they are on the field, they must stand, or the team could face fines.
BENITEZ: The rule change coming two years after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first started kneeling to protest racial inequality and police brutality. President Trump pressuring the league for months.
BENITEZ: Just days ago, the President praising NASCAR.
BENITEZ: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell calling the unanimous vote by team owners a compromise, but the NFL Players Association says it was not consulted on this change.
[Cuts back to live]
MUIR: Gio Benitez live with us tonight. And Gio, as I mentioned, one team chairman saying today that the team will pay for his players if they choose to kneel?
BENITEZ: Yeah, that's right, David. We're talking about Chris Johnson, chairman of the jets. He says he's not going to discourage players from taking a knee, he'll pay if he has to. And the player's union says it be challenging this—be ready to challenge this if it needs to, David.
NBC Nightly News
May 23, 2018
7:01:27 PM Eastern [2 minutes 14 seconds]
LESTER HOLT: Good evening tonight from Washington and thank you for joining us. There is a big question mark this evening over whether NFL players will stand for the league's new national anthem policy announced today. Team owners crafted the new rules in a bid to repair PR damage from players kneeling during pregame anthem performances in the name of social justice. The policy give players new options to express views and kneeling wasn't one of them. And tonight, the player's union says it wasn't consulted on the new policy.
[Cuts to video]
ANN THOMPSON: To stand or not to stand, no longer a question in the NFL. Under the amended policy, a player on the field must stand and show respect during the national anthem or his team will be fined. A player can stay off the field without penalty.
THOMPSON: A political football, some think the NFL fumbled.
THOMPSON: The CEO of New York Jets says he won't punish any players who kneel. In 2016, then 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was one of the first to not stand protesting the treatment of minorities.
THOMPSON: As more players protested, President Trump took sides.
THOMPSON: TV ratings fell 10 percent, fans booed players who knelt. USA Today columnist Mike Jones says this is a business decision by the owners.
THOMPSON: The player's union says the change is under further review. And tonight, one of the protesters, Philadelphia safety, Malcolm Jenkins says, “I will not let it silence me or stop me from fighting.” As the league tries to turn its attention from the flag to the field. Ann Thompson, NBC news, New York.
CBS Evening News
May 23, 2018
6:31:33 PM Eastern
JEFF GLOR: Good evening. We're going to begin tonight with the NFL's stand on players who choose not to. It became a divisive issue, starting in 2016, when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling as a member of the 49ers. Some players followed suit, both that season and the following. They say they're calling attention to racial injustice. But many NFL owners believe it disrespects the flag, and today they took action to stop it. Here's Jim Axelrod.
[Cuts to video]
JIM AXELROD: The National Football League's most divisive image the past two seasons will be prohibited this year.
AXELROD: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a new "no kneeling" policy that states during the anthem, all players on the field must stand or their team can be fined, which can then be passed on to players. Those not wanting to stand, can remain in the locker room. Following the lead of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, NFL players began to kneel during the anthem to protest police brutality and racism in America.
AXELROD: President Trump consistently railed against the league and its players. Today, Vice President Pence tweeted out an article about the new policy with “#winning.” A CBS News poll last September showed a majority of Americans disapproved of kneeling during the anthem. Today, some players, like Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, welcomed the new policy.
DAK PRESCOTT: I'm glad they came to an agreement, some form or another. I'll be out there standing.
AXELROD: But the players' union complained it was not part of the process. Linebacker Sam Acho is the player rep for the Chicago Bears.
SAM ACHO: As a union what, do we do? How will we respond? But to be honest, I think a lot of players are happy about the conversations that are happening, so the protests served their purpose.
[Cuts back to live]
AXELROD: As for the TV ratings, football lost nine percent of its audience last year. But NFL games still accounted for 37 of the year's top 50 broadcasts. Jeff, that's nearly three-quarters of the most-watched programs on TV.