The controversy over NFL national anthem protests dominated the first half of the football season, prompting some nervous advertisers to threaten to pull their spots if coverage persisted. Those demonstrations have since tapered off, but if they recur during Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4, NBC said it won’t hesitate to spotlight it on-air for the telecast’s 100-million-plus viewers.
“The Super Bowl is a live event … and when you’re covering a live event, you’re covering what’s happening. So if there are players that choose to kneel, they will be shown live,” Super Bowl LII executive producer Fred Gaudelli said at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour.
Gaudelli, who also executive produces Sunday Night Football and Thursday Night Football for NBC, added that while the controversy has “died down” since Thanksgiving, “it’s certainly possible that could happen again.”
If it does, he continued, “we could cover it the same way we would cover it on a Sunday night game or a Thursday night game.” NBC would show it, identify the athlete, explain “in a very concise way” why they are kneeling “and then get on with the game.”
Prior to the protests, the national anthem was rarely broadcast during the regular NFL season, but “obviously the national anthem is always covered live at the Super Bowl,” Gaudelli said. Earlier this week, Pink was tapped to sing the national anthem during the game.
Some advertisers have tried to distance themselves from coverage of the NFL national anthem protests, threatening to pull their ads over the controversy earlier this season—though none ultimately did—Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships for NBCUniversal, said in November.
A “list of advertisers have made themselves very clear: If you continue covering the political coverage of the issue, we will not be part of the NFL,” Yaccarino said at the time. “Because think about it: they have half the country that is cheering about that, and they have half the country that is emailing them, saying, don’t do that. So that’s a real thing.”