As presented by NBC Sports, the Olympics are a feel-good festival of nationalism, positively packed with American flags and chants of “USA! USA!”
A protest by American athletes might take a bite out of that narrative. Particularly if such a protest came, say, during the Opening Ceremony — if something took place equivalent to Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City or NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.
So what will NBC do if an American athlete does something like that during the Opening Ceremony?
Depends on which host you ask, Mike Tirico or Katie Couric.
“If it happens, whether it’s during the Opening Ceremony or during a medal ceremony, I think it’s our responsibility to report it, show it, and then follow up on what the situation was,” Tirico said on a conference call with reporters. “As we go through the Olympics, I think we’ll have a better feel for how that might play out and how it’ll be shown on television.”
Couric — perhaps because she’s not actually an NBC employee — replied more cautiously.
“I don’t think we’d ever shy away from something that’s newsworthy,” she said, adding that the decision would be made “collectively” by NBC, which would “make a determination based on the event.”
“And so I think it really is dependent on what that looks like, what it is, how organized it is, and a lot of other factors that go into editorial decisions that are made every day,” said Couric.
That’s a long way from the more simple answer — “Yes, we’ll cover it.” And it ends up sounding a lot like, “No, we won’t.”
Whether you like it or not — whether you agree with the substance or the timing of a political protest by American athletes at any point during the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea — it would unquestionably be news. That’s a no-brainer.
No other American outlet has the broadcast/online rights to Games, so NBC would be the only news organization that could cover it. And Tirico is 100 percent correct — NBC has a “responsibility” to do so.
Again, Couric’s attempt to answer without really answering might have been because she’s a hired hand. Tirico has been a full-time employee of NBC Sports since 2016; Couric left NBC, where she co-hosted “The Today Show,” almost 12 years ago.
(She returned to “Today” for a week in January 2017 to celebrate, ahem, since-fired Matt Lauer’s 20th anniversary as host of that show.)
Tirico is the prime-time host for NBC’s Olympic coverage throughout the games. Couric has been hired just to co-host the opening ceremonies.
Take a knee
The man in charge of NBC’s telecast of the upcoming Super Bowl said his network will absolutely, positively show us if one of more players takes a knee during the national anthem of the Eagles-Patriots game.
“When you’re covering a live event, you’re covering what’s happening,” said NBC Sports executive producer Fred Gaudelli, who will be helming his sixth Super Bowl telecast. “So if there are players who choose to kneel, they will be shown live.”
He doesn’t necessarily think that’s going to happen — he said “a lot of that has kind of dissipated and died down” — but acknowledged “It was a pretty big story in our country this fall.”
“We’d show it. We’d identify the person. We would probably try to, in a very concise manner, mention why it is this person is kneeling … and then get on with the game.”