For NBC, Thursday night’s NFL opening night provided an opportunity to shed light on Black Lives Matter, a social justice movement that has picked up steam in recent months following the George Floyd tragedy in Minneapolis. While host Mike Tirico and studio analysts Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison and Chris Simms didn’t shy away from discussing race on NBC’s pregame coverage of Chiefs/Texans, once the game got underway, any discussion of BLM was quickly backburnered with longtime announcer Al Michaels offering little to no insight on the matter.
Perhaps that was intentional—it’s unclear if higher-ups at NBC requested Michaels stick to the game rather than call attention to a potentially murky topic. Polarizing or not, Michaels’ silence on the subject, particularly after partner Cris Collinsworth addressed it briefly at the top of NBC’s broadcast, was noticeable to say the least. Michaels brought up gambling—another taboo talking point, though admittedly less so in recent years with sports betting beginning to enter the mainstream—on multiple occasions, but grew quiet whenever the conversation turned to BLM and matters of social justice.
Predictably, Michaels’ lack of response drew criticism on social media with many expressing their disappointment that the veteran play-by-play voice didn’t speak up or show support for the black community following a turbulent few months in our country’s history.
The consensus seems to be that Michaels didn’t make the best use of his platform, helming what will likely be one of the most-watched television broadcasts of the year. While Michaels, one of the more recognizable names in the sports broadcast medium, no doubt missed a golden opportunity to contribute to our national dialogue, the blurring of sports and social commentary warrants a certain level of nuance.
Are play-by-play announcers the right deliverer of this message, or even equipped to talk on such sensitive matters? It’s understandable why some would be hesitant to chime in on topics outside their area of expertise, but if Kirk Herbstreit and Kenny Smith can do it, why can’t Michaels?