While the protests haven't been a major storyline through the NFL preseason, Trump is bringing them back up again.
ESPN held its "football media day" last week, and new network president Jimmy Pitaro gave an update on how ESPN would handle the national anthem during broadcasts.
The anthem has never been a staple of normal regular season broadcasts. Last year, ESPN aired it a few times, given the significance of the protests, and how it dominated parts of the 2017 season.
Pitaro said that ESPN doesn't plan to show the anthem in its broadcasts of Monday Night Football this year, which is very much the status quo. Via Axios reporter Sara Fischer:
"We generally have not broadcast the anthem and I don't think that will change this year. Our plan going into this year is to not broadcast the anthem. Again that could change. It's unpredictable what could happen in the world but as of now, we're not. We have communicated that back to the NFL. They have not asked but as courtesy and good partners we have let them know what our plans are."
CBS says that it will handle things similarly to ESPN, while FOX only plans to show the anthem for special occasions, like games on Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving. NBC Sports has not yet made a decision, per Awful Announcing.
ESPN probably thought that avoiding the anthem altogether was the non-political, non-partisan move here. Instead, it is now being used against the company by Trump. He blasted ESPN during a rally in West Virginia last night.
Today, Donald Trump sent out a petition to "tell ESPN to play America's anthem" to his email list.
Via Media Matters for America's Eric Hananoki:
The email is titled "SPINELESS decision" and reads:
Just after we heard a sitting governor trash America, ESPN has now decided it will no longer play the National Anthem before Monday Night Football.
If "America" is too offensive for anyone in our country then what are they doing in America?
I'm calling on your to join me in denouncing this SPINELESS surrender to the politically correct liberal mob.
I was the first person to sign this petition. Now I need you to follow my lead and be the second."
In May, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones revealed that the president told him that the NFL "can't win this one." Trump reportedly called the national anthem a "very winning, strong issue" for him, and said it "lifts" him. Clearly, he's going to play that card whenever he can, and given yesterday's news cycle, we probably should have known something like this was coming.