President Donald Trump resumed his attacks on ESPN Wednesday, calling the sports media giant “spineless” in an email to supporters and urging them to sign a petition demanding that the network televise the playing of the national anthem before the NFL games it airs this season.
The email came one day after the president, speaking at a rally in West Virginia, criticized ESPN’s decision to not broadcast the playing of the anthem. The comments came at the end of a day of setbacks for the president, as his former personal lawyer pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws and his former campaign chairman was convicted on tax and bank fraud charges.
Trump’s email and rally comments were in response to ESPN President James Pitaro, who told reporters last week that the network had informed the NFL it did not plan on televising the playing of the anthem on its “Monday Night Football” telecasts this season.
“ESPN has now decided it will no longer play the National Anthem before Monday Night Football,” read the email, which included Trump’s signature and was sent by the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a fundraising committee that supports the president’s re-election campaign.
The email was not quite correct, though, as ESPN and other networks that televise the NFL have not generally shown the anthem, often airing commercials during that time instead.
But as NFL players’ protests of police brutality and social injustice, by kneeling or raising their fists during the national anthem the past two seasons, have ballooned into a dominant narrative around the league, the networks have sometimes shown the anthem live during their broadcasts. ESPN did so on “Monday Night Football” three times last season.
ESPN’s position for the upcoming season also largely mirrors that of other NFL rights holders. CBS and Fox also do not plan on regularly airing the anthem, while NBC has yet to announce its plans. An ESPN spokeswoman declined to comment on the petition.
The Trump administration has made a habit of criticizing ESPN. After Jemele Hill, a prominent ESPN personality, tweeted last year that Trump was a white supremacist, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, called the comments a “fireable offense.” Hill was not fired.
Trump has also tweeted about ESPN’s ratings and claimed people were dumping the network over its politics, although there is no evidence that either ESPN’s subscriber loss or the NFL’s ratings decline is related to players’ kneeling during the national anthem or politics more broadly.