NBC recently got sued for plagiarizing its 2018 “Sunday Night Football” intro. So it created a new song this year and swept the scandal and publicity under the rug. It just happened to sweep America under the rug as well.
For years, “Sunday Night Football” has been NBC’s top-rated show, helping the network this past year earn the highest viewership in the nation. Since 2013, Carrie Underwood has been kicking off the show singing the intro. To celebrate the 100-year anniversary of professional football, and with incentive from songwriter Heidi Merrill’s plagiarism lawsuit, NBC rewrote the intro, bringing in rockstar Joanne Jet to play with Underwood.
Although with this new version NBC pulled out all the stops to get fans hyped for this historic season, there is still a small problem: the video doesn’t once make any patriotic references in its visuals or audio. That might not seem to be too big of a deal, except for the fact that for the past 10 years, NBC has consistently called attention to things like “America’s Game” and “the Red White and Blue.”
Sitting down to watch the intro at the beginning of the season, you might have expected to see at least one American flag, but you didn’t. The flag is gone. This comes in sharp contrast to the 2010 and 2011 intros, in which Faith Hill sang ringed by American flags and Executive Producer Dick Ebersol’s name was displayed on an American flag billboard. In seven of the past ten years the intro has shown American flags and even at times the U.S. capitol and other patriotic sights. In this season’s intro, the producers showed the Seattle skyline.
In every one of the past 10 years, there has been an explicit patriotic reference in the lyrics; the previous two years (which featured new theme songs) talked about “America’s game” while before that Underwood and Hill sang about the “star-spangled fight” that bled “red, white, and blue.” Now returning to the original theme song, NBC edited out those lyrics to talk about “a prime-time fight” that’s “kicking into high gear.”
SNF producer Fred Gaudelli’s comments on the new intro were terse, and he took care not to mention the omission of America: “We changed songs this year and decided to highlight the NFL’s 100th season. We re-wrote the lyrics and decided this was the best version of the song. That’s it, plain and simple.”
It’s a curious decision to think that cutting America out of a song is the “best” way to celebrate an American sport’s 100-year-old heritage. For its entire existence, football has been a huge part of the U.S. national identity. From Friday night high school games to Vince Lombardi, it has been important both for forming American youth and national unity.
Teddy Roosevelt once said, “In life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard; don’t foul and don’t shirk, but hit the line hard!” He saw football as vital to teaching young American men the merit of pushing through whatever life threw at them. He valued the virtues of football so highly that during his presidency, he saved the sport from extinction.
For years following, football’s positive effect on the nation validated Roosevelt’s actions. Now NBC is eschewing the favor.
Football has more than proved its worth as a unifier of the country. For one thing, only Americans play football, and we’re darn good at it. It gives citizens a sense of national pride that we have a certain excellence (as trivial a skill as it may be) that no one else has. It’s like each American has a secret handshake called football.
The sport over the years has also brought unity to the nation for the same reason other sports have. It’s enjoyable. It’s given Americans the chance to get away from the world’s daily grind to bond over the thrill of winning and the shock of seeing a great catch. In all sports, Americans love to see a great player do excellently, and to watch an underdog do better. This attraction of sports brings people together when politics and quarrels can’t.
In 1918, when Red Sox player Fred Thomas removed his ballcap to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the whole stadium followed suit, and the song was adopted by baseball, football, and other sports as a ceremonial opening until in 1931, the song was officially established by Congress as our country’s national anthem. You might say that sports gave birth to this symbol of national pride and unity. At the conclusion of World War II, NFL Commissioner Elmer Layden said, “The playing of the national anthem should be as much a part of every game as the kickoff.”
Now NBC is doing its part to chip away at the national pride Americans take in football. The network did its best not to bring attention to the omission in the intro, probably because if it learned anything from the 2017 season, it’s that major knocks on America and its flag do not sit well with the fans or TV ratings. Americans still have some patriotic spirit, and NBC knows that. If it’s going to eliminate displays of national pride, it can only afford to do so bit by bit.
The NFL is so eager to make football international, but its own network can’t make the effort to keep it rooted to its original country. NBC has some gall to do this un-American rewrite only one year removed from the Colin Kaepernick rumpus.
But perhaps it’s a symptom of eagerly playing up to Roger Goodell’s desire to make football multicultural. Or maybe it’s swallowed the Donald Trump bait and has thrown national pride down the drain with hate of the president and his antics.
But whatever the network’s motivations, one thing is clear: football, which once helped unify the country, is now being used to create an American culture increasingly devoid of national awareness.