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Knowing the NFL's massive TV influence has turned generations of athletes into household names, it's still somewhat surprising how much everyone has been talking about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had the national spotlight thrust upon him after his protest-refusal to stand during the national anthem at last Friday's preseason game, nor any others. While the NFL's gameplan for polarizing controversies like this is akin to plague avoidance, it sounds like broadcasters are going to do the opposite here, with a special focus on when Kaepernick will be playing in nationally televised games.
The first big TV game of the season for the 49ers will be that first week's contest against the Los Angeles Rams, which will air as the second half of Monday Night Football's double-header premiere. Because the game is on the west coast, it's getting the later start time, meaning the ESPN broadcast would normally pick up only after the first game's completion. But don't let that fool you into thinking the moment will go unrecognized. Here's what Monday Night Football lead producer Jay Rothman said.
That doesn't mean we couldn't record it and report it. I think our job, especially with the whole Kaepernick deal, it's our job to document and report the game. And those who are working on the game, if Kaepernick is on the team and chooses to sit again, I'm sure they'll get perspective from Kaepernick, they'll get perspective from [49ers head coach] Chip Kelly, they'll get perspective from others and report.
There's no denying that press conferences for team members and coaches will often bypass game stats to hop onto the more sensational story, but that's not always the case when it comes to what's covered in the commentator booth and on the sidelines. Colin Kaepernick's reasoning for staying mum during the anthem was to make a statement addressing how minorities are treated in this country, particularly when it comes to law enforcement. Such heavily political topics are not the norm in a discussion that can also involve endzone dances, so it'll be interesting to see just how this situation is angled on the air, with everyone knowing how hot-button it is. (It's even getting addressed on Madden NFL 17.)
Good on Rothman for saying they could "record and report it," when we all know there's a 99% certainty that the first MNF game's coverage will either completely shift over to Los Angeles for the anthem, or the picture-in-picture format will be used. There's no way it goes unseen as it happens live, unless Kaepernick is made to stay in the locker room. And even his absence would get shown.
The 49ers-Rams game will be called by Chris Berman and Steve Young instead of Jon Gruden and Sean McDonough, and Lindsay Czarniak will be doing the on-field interviews and reporting rather than Lisa Salters. According to Variety, Salters spoke during the same conference call about how that game will be handled.
Lindsay will be the reporter for that game, and I'm sure she's going to spend a bit of time talking to Colin before the game, should he make the team, about his position. She will get his reaction about the criticism that he has gotten, about the support that he's gotten. And she'll present a report based on that and based on what actually happens during the national anthem. . . . He may stand during the national anthem, and that would make news as well, because it would be going against what he said he was going to do.
And if Monday Night Football is doing this, you know most affiliates are going to do the same thing when the 49ers games aren't aired nationally. The NFL has eagerly stayed away from speaking at length about a lot of the other scandals that have rocked the league and its athletes in recent years, so it's strange that this is one that passes muster. It's probably just because it actually happens during a broadcast.
Monday Night Football will kick off its 2016-2017 season on Monday, September 12.