Media Microscope: Fox lets viewers down with all-too brief anthem discussion

Mark J. Rebilas
During Sunday night's MLS match, FS1 failed to properly deal with a controversial subject that has generated plenty of debate in American soccer.

Give Fox some credit: They didn’t shy away from a big issue.

Rather than the usual highlights or around-the-league discussion at halftime of FS1’s broadcast of Atlanta United’s match against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, the network took on the newly announced U.S. Soccer policy mandating its players stand for the national anthem.

From there, though, Fox let its viewers down.

Analyst Alexi Lalas was given 67 seconds to deliver his opinion on the matter, and he did so with aplomb. The former U.S. defender voiced his full-throated support for U.S. Soccer’s policy.

"Damn right, I'm going to stand, I'm going to put my hand over my heart and I am going to sing,” Lalas said. "And I believe that all U.S. national team players should be required to do that because just because we live in the land of the free doesn't mean we are free to do anything that we want."

As passionate and eloquent as Lalas was, the presentation of his as the lone voice on this debate was problematic. The national anthem discussion is complex and multi-layered. It demands a more diverse set of opinions and a longer period of discussion than it was allotted.

This isn’t to say that Lalas doesn’t deserve to have his voice heard, or that his opinion is invalid. Quite the contrary. As one of the U.S. national team’s most recognizable figures past or present, Lalas’ opinion is valuable and demands attention.

But if Fox truly wanted to have a good-faith debate on the topic, it needed to get into why Megan Rapinoe took a cue from 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and kneeled for the national anthem, which resulted in plenty of consternation and eventually caused U.S. Soccer to instate the new rule.

Megan Rapinoe USA

Without that why, there really is no debate. Only through the presentation of a multi-faceted discussion could viewers have been fully briefed on a complex issue that has, in fact, generated plenty of debate.

This is where diversity matters — both in the sense of having more than one opinion on the topic, and in regards to providing a platform to someone belonging to one of the marginalized groups that players like Kaepernick and Rapinoe are advocating for.

There’s just no way for anyone, no matter what side of the debate they’re on, to get a firm grasp on the anthem issue from the opinion of one person given just one minute to speak.

Lalas right to speak in favor of anthem policy

Compare Fox's response to the anthem controversy to ESPN's handling of a similar situation.

In January, U.S. national team goalkeeper Tim Howard made remarks questioning the passion of some dual-national players who had represented the United States.

Days later, the U.S. took on Serbia in a friendly on ESPN2. The broadcast began with a discussion of Howard’s comments that involved host Sebastian Salazar, and analysts Herculez Gomez and Kasey Keller.

By incorporating multiple voices — including Gomez, himself an ex-player who represented the U.S. but was eligible to play for Mexico — and devoting several minutes to the topic, ESPN gave its viewers a more well-rounded, nuanced picture of a controversial subject.

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Fox needed to devote more time and allow more voices on the topic, or not bring it up at all. With Lalas delivering an unchallenged soliloquy, Fox didn't encourage a discussion — it shut one down.

Letting Lalas give an unchallenged opinion on a red card or penalty kick award isn’t a problem. By treating a complex societal issue like a referee’s decision, Fox did a major disservice to its viewers Sunday.