A 'Black-ish' episode about kneeling NFL players was yanked by ABC. Why?

Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
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Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross in this week’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” episode of <em>Black-ish.&nbsp;</em>(Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC)
Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross in this week’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” episode of Black-ish. (Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC)

Variety has reported that ABC decided not to air a new episode of Black-ish whose plot includes a discussion of football players who kneel during the playing of the national anthem. The official word is that ABC and Black-ish show creator Kenya Barris had “creative differences” and mutually agreed to yank the episode that was titled “Please, Baby, Please.”

What’s really going on here? Variety has described the apparently controversial scene as one in which Anthony Anderson’s Dre argues with his son Junior (Marcus Scribner) about the rights and merits of NFL players taking a knee to protest racial injustice. I haven’t seen the episode, so I can’t judge the quality of “Please, Baby, Please.” But on the face of it, it seems safe to assume that ABC did not want to walk into a potential mess. Ever since President Trump needlessly enflamed a big chunk of the country with his comments at an Alabama rally last year, the NFL protests have been a flash point for all sorts of racial and political issues.

Potential business decisions factor into this. ESPN, home of Monday Night Football, is owned by the same company that owns ABC: Disney. It’s possible ABC didn’t want to air something that might affect its sports programming in a negative way. Black-ish has dealt with other controversial topics such as the N word and police brutality. It may be that ABC decided the subject of kneeling football players was one controversy too many for the network. (The episode had been scheduled to air Feb. 27. ABC aired a rerun instead; the reason for the schedule change has only now been revealed.)

Given the quality and tone of Black-ish in the past, I think it’s likely that the show probably came down on the side of the rights of players to express themselves on bended knee. The idea that such a point of view would prompt ABC to become weak in its own corporate knees is another reminder of how fragile we’ve become over notions of potential offense and protest.

Black-ish airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.

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