Once again, the NFL finds itself at the center of political drama. But this time, the league and its players aren’t directly involved.
During Sunday night’s marquee game between the Green Bay Packers andNew England Patriots, NBC ran a 30-second version of a highly controversial Republican-oriented political ad that, without evidence, implies a link between immigration and crime. The ad, endorsed by President Donald Trump, was designed to fire up fears of a migrant caravan headed toward the United States in advance of Tuesday’s midterm elections. CNN had refused to run the ad, declaring it “racist,” but NBC opted to air it during “Sunday Night Football,” a program that’s regularly the most watched in America every week.
Monday morning, NBC backpedaled, saying in a statement that “after further review we recognize the insensitive nature of the ad and have decided to cease airing it across our properties as soon as possible.”
NEW NBC statement regarding the Trump immigration ad:
“After further review we recognize the insensitive nature of the ad and have decided to cease airing it across our properties as soon as possible.” – NBCUniversal Spokesperson.
— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) November 5, 2018
“Sunday Night Football” is one of NBC’s preeminent properties, and the Packers-Patriots game was the most-watched primetime show on any channel since March. The NFL’s ratings have rebounded from their recent lows, and “SNF” continues to lead that charge, as the network notes:
— NBC Sports PR (@NBCSportsPR) November 5, 2018
So it’s obvious why, from a breadth-of-reach perspective, the ad aired on Sunday night. Given that the ad has already aired to a huge audience and midterm elections are only two days away, “ceasing to air” the ad for “insensitive” reasons would seem to be a case of locking the barn door long after the horse galloped out in front of millions of viewers, but the fact that NBC is taking even this small, late stand marks a precedent for the 2020 elections.
Ad’s controversial and false claims
The 30-second ad used the story of Luis Bracamontes, an undocumented Mexican immigrant convicted of murdering two Sacramento, California, police officers in 2014, to stoke fears about what the migrant caravan could bring to America. There’s no indication, however, that Brancamontes has any connection with the caravan, which is still hundreds of miles from the U.S. border. A longer version of the ad, not run on NBC, included the false claim that Democrats “let [Brancamontes] into our country” and “let him stay.”
Debra Messing, star of NBC’s “Will and Grace,” took to Twitter to express her outrage about the ad:
To our @willandgrace fans—I want you to know that I am ashamed that my network aired this disgusting racist ad. It is the antithesis of everything I personally believe in, and what, I believe, our show is all about. @nbc pic.twitter.com/CLinZKHB47
— Debra Messing (@DebraMessing) November 5, 2018
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, had criticized CNN for not running the ad, saying “I guess they only run fake news and won’t talk about real threats that don’t suit their agenda.” CNN responded by noting that the network “has made it abundantly clear in its editorial coverage that this ad is racist. When presented with an opportunity to be paid to take a version of this ad, we declined.”
UPDATE: Fox News has also declined to continue running the ad:
Wow- @brianstelter reports: racist Trump campaign ad pulled from Fox News
"Upon further review, FOX News pulled the ad yesterday and it will not appear on either FOX News Channel or FOX Business Network," ad sales president Marianne Gambelli told CNN.
— Elizabeth Landers (@ElizLanders) November 5, 2018
NBC is likely to catch similar heat from Republican advocates for pulling the ad. However, it’s worth remembering why the ad was on NBC at all: to get a message out to the largest possible audience … which, let’s not forget, is the exact same reason NFL players chose the national anthem as the venue for their protests. Sports and politics are and always have been intertwined; the only question is whether you as a fan agree with the messages.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Did NFL star announce twins with TD celebration?
• Jets star has finally had enough of team’s losing
• Major League Baseball reveals Gold Glove winners
• Watch: Panthers player jukes entire defense on TD