Mike Tirico Says NBC Will Cover Athlete Protests During the Olympics, Rips NFL Media for Never Asking Players ‘Why’ They Protested

AP Olympics

NBC already made it clear, that the cameras will show any players who protest during the Super Bowl. Now, according to Mike Tirico, NBC will cover protesting athletes at the Olympics as well.

On Wednesday, an NBC Olympics preview call took place with NBC Olympics President (production) and Executive producer Jim Bell, NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel, as well as Opening Ceremony hosts Mike Tirico and Katie Couric.

For the final question of the call, a media member asked what NBC would do if a player protested, or tried to make a political statement during the ceremonies. Here’s NBC’s transcript of the exchange via Awful Announcing:

Q…For Katie and Mike, you talk about the human interest stories a lot, what you’re looking forward to with the opening ceremony. What happens if a U.S. athlete makes a political statement during the Opening Ceremony? Would you shy away from that?

MIKE TIRICO: I’ve been handling it most of the football season. I think our responsibility as reporters, journalists, hosts is to document the event that’s happening in front of us, and if there is some sort of protest, I think it’s important to do that.

I think one of the things that was missed a bit with the NFL players that were kneeling, which I assume is the genesis of the question here and got a lot of coverage around the country, we need to know why, as well. It’s one thing to say somebody was kneeling, somebody was protesting. Sometimes we didn’t do as good a job as an entire group in the media identifying what that player was protesting. Certainly on the Olympic stage it would take on a different level of interest because you’re not representing the Seahawks or the Lions or the Jaguars; you’re representing the USA. And that’s why I think we might not see those same types of protests that we saw during the NFL season, but it’s possible. And to your direct question, if it happens, whether it’s during the Opening Ceremony or during a medal ceremony, I think it’s our responsibility to report it, show it, and then follow up on what the situation was.

As we go through the Olympics, I think we’ll have a better feel for how that might play out and how it’ll be shown on television.

KATIE COURIC: I think it’s sort of hard to predict in advance, too. I don’t think we’d ever shy away from something that’s newsworthy. I think that collectively in a news organization anywhere or covering a big important news event, you make a determination based on the event. And so I think it really is dependent on what that looks like, what it is, how organized it is, and a lot of other factors that go into editorial decisions that are made every day.

It definitely doesn’t seem like Couric and Tirico discussed this issue before being asked about it. Tirico seems to think the network would show any and all forms of protest which might occur. Meanwhile, Couric says that it would be “determination based on the event”; something which would have to be decided “collectively in a news organization.”

If you read between the lines, you can see that Couric takes a shot at Tirico. By throwing in the qualifier that NBC is a “news organization,” she reminds Tirico that he no longer works for the jock network at ESPN, and now works for a news organization. Plus, by stipulating that the call on whether to televise the protests will be made “collectively,” she gently reminds Tirico that such a decision is above his pay grade.

Tirico’s comment on the NFL media not explaining why players were protesting, seems a little off as well. First, Colin Kaepernick made clear why he began the protests immediately after he sat during the national anthem.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after his protest. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

How exactly is a broadcaster supposed to nonchalantly segue from: “Michael Bennett is kneeling today because the country hates black people;” to “back to receive the kick is Adoree Jackson?”

Seems like kind of a rough segue there.

Bottom-line is there’s no real segue and the broadcasters job is to present the game, not explain a players politics. Reporters, reporting from the locker-room, are in a far better position and forum for that kind of storytelling. Especially since the player is able to explain himself, as opposed to having an announcer explain him to other people.

At the end of the day, after watching what happened to the NFL’s ratings this year, NBC will have to decide whether it makes good business sense to show a political protest during the Olympics.

Though, Mike Tirico will not be the one making that decision.


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