Tuesday December 5, 2023

How the NFL and TV Partners are Treating the Presidential Election

  • League and TV networks have been pushing get-out-the-vote efforts.
  • But networks are leery of extensively covering the candidates.
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
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Get out and V-O-T-E.

That was the message coming from the NFL and its media partners over the past few weeks as the country raced toward Election Day.

Over recent weeks, a growing number of sports voices have made it clear who they’re voting for. Both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden aired campaign commercials on Sunday NFL pregame shows, including “Fox NFL Sunday” and CBS Sports’ “The NFL Today.”

Sports giants from NFL to ESPN have been criticized for becoming overly political in recent months. 

Sports TV networks, in particular, have been walking on eggshells leading up to the U.S. presidential election. Despite Trump’s frequent criticism of the NFL, the league and its networks have limited themselves to get-out-the-vote efforts rather than pushing specific candidates or causes.

During the last election, an estimated 40% of eligible voters did not turn in a ballot. Here’s a rundown on how the NFL and its TV networks treated Election Day:

— NFL: Under the league’s “NFL Votes” initiative, 15 teams will open their stadiums as polling locations on Nov. 3. More than 90% of NFL players are registered to vote, according to the NFL Players Association. 

All NFL, NFLPA, and team facilities will be closed Tuesday “to ensure that every member of the NFL family has an opportunity to exercise the right to vote and may safely support voting,” the league said.

During Sunday’s NFL game coverage, viewers saw the word “Vote” prominently stenciled in the end zones of the Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Field and the Baltimore Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium. 

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— ESPN: The Worldwide Leader in Sports has been airing a public service announcement to promote voting among its viewers. 

The spot aims to drive viewers to iamavoter.com, where they can get info on registration and voting. “This election is your chance to be heard and decide who represents YOU,” says the spot.

Previously, ESPN.com published a series of stories on how team owners donate to U.S. political campaigns. 

Since 2015, sports owners have donated nearly $47 million to federal elections campaigns. That includes $10 million to Republican causes vs. $1.9 million for Democratic causes during the 2020 election cycle.

Another article warned some owners are hiding their donations to Republican candidates to avoid a backlash from their own players, staffers, and fans.

ESPN’s tiptoeing around Trump vs. Biden is partly policy. The network’s social media guidelines state commentators “should refrain from overt partisanship or endorsement of particular candidates, politicians or political parties.”

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— Fox Sports: The “Fox NFL Sunday” pregame show aired a feature narrated by actor and singer Leslie Odom Jr. 

The piece chronicled the 100-year struggle for voting rights led by the slain Martin Luther King Jr. and others in the Black community. 

“When you fill out your ballot, remember how many heroes sacrificed their lives so that we could head to the polls this week,” Odom said.

Fox’s Howie Long credited pro athletes across all sports for helping drive the surge of early voting across the country. 

“It’s been fascinating to watch America really get engaged in this election year,” added host Curt Menefee.

Fox also had some fun with mock attack ads by Jay Glazer and Michael Strahan on who would induct Jimmy Johnson into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — “You know that gap in Strahan’s teeth. It’s fake. Weird right,” asked one fake Glazer spot.

— CBS Sports: Nate Burleson of “The NFL Today” interviewed Matthew A. Cherry, the former NFL player turned Oscar-winning co-director of “Hair Love.” 

The African-American filmmaker urged all CBS Sports viewers to vote. 

“Sometimes it’s bigger than just you. You have to think about the generations of people that are going to come after you that this election is going to impact,” Cherry said.

— NBC Sports: Mike Tirico, of “Football Night in America,” reported that Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and team owners from the Hunt family have joined together to raise money for 40 voting machines at Arrowhead Stadium.

NBC also aired an “NFL Votes” PSA.  “Vote today,” says Commissioner Roger Goodell in the spot.

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