Sports media gets political after Trump’s NFL comments

ESPN abandoned its usual pregame chatter in favor of a long and heavy conversation about unity, politics and President Trump.

Fox and CBS said they would broadcast the national anthem live — a notable shift away from the usual practice.

Make no mistake: Sports TV became political on Sunday in a whole new way.

It would have been nearly impossible for sports broadcasters to ignore the story. Trump kicked off a firestorm two days ago when he criticized the National Football League and attacked athletes who kneel during the national anthem to draw attention to social justice issues.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired,'” Trump told a crowd in Alabama on Friday.

Related: NFL airing unity ad in prime time on Sunday

It’s not a new issue. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand last year when he played for the San Francisco 49ers — a show of protest against racial injustice.

But Trump’s decision to wade into the fray now didn’t just renew interest in the matter. His remarks also undeniably drove the tone of sports coverage on Sunday.

To start, the “Star Spangled Banner” typically isn’t covered apart from the Super Bowl and other major events.

But both Fox and CBS, which will begin airing NFL games at 1 p.m., said Sunday they will air the anthem live — a notable shift.

ESPN also said it will air the anthem live for “Monday Night Football.”

Yahoo Sports did exactly that while broadcasting the day’s first game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens in London.

The cameras were focused on players of both teams who kneeled along with Jaguars owner Shahid Khan and former Ravens all-star Ray Lewis. Lewis was recently signed by Fox Sports as an NFL analyst.

Related: With ‘son of a bitch’ comments, Trump tried to divide NFL and its players

Trump was also the main focus of conversation during pregame shows on ESPN and Fox.

ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” show spent its first 22 minutes exclusively on the president — a significant decision for a network that insists it is not a “political organization,” despite tangling with Trump in recent weeks.

“We do like to stick to sports around here. That’s why we all got into this. We love sports,” said host Sam Ponder. “But before we do that, we’ve got to talk about the biggest news in the NFL today, and it is inherently political because it involves the President of the United States.”

Former head coach Rex Ryan was strikingly candid on the show. Ryan, who voted for Trump and introduced him at a campaign event, said he was angered by Trump’s comments.

“I never signed up for that,” Ryan said. “I never wanted that. That doesn’t mean I support 100% of the things that he says and clearly this is a case.”

An hour later, Fox’s pregame coverage followed.

“The athletes of this country, we’re looked up to, OK?” said Tony Gonzalez, former NFL tight end, on the network’s pregame show. “There’s kids that are watching. Whatever the president, his point that he was trying to get across there, it’s going to backfire on him. And all you did was just bring everybody together from the sports world.”

–CNNMoney’s Jackie Wattles contributed to this story.

CNNMoney (New York) First published September 24, 2017: 12:44 PM ET

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