No sports on AFN news channel during shutdown

Deployed servicemembers from the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing enjoy Super Bowl XLVII live from an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia on Feb. 4, 2013.


By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 4, 2013

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — So long, Dodgers and Red Sox. Sure gonna miss ya, Broncos and Crimson Tide. Even NASCAR and the President’s Cup golf are nowhere to be seen.

The American Forces Network, reduced to just a news channel this week by the government shutdown, says it has no plans to screen football, baseball or other sports until things get back to normal.

The hopes of sports fans — raised this week when AFN started showing ESPN’s "SportsCenter" on the news channel — were dashed in an email from AFN on Friday that ruled out screening actual sports events during the shutdown.

Navy Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist John Harrington, an AFN spokesman, said in an email that the broadcaster’s lawyers had determined there is no sound policy or legal basis to air sports.

The legal opinion advised that televised sport “is not deemed critical to accomplish essential aspects of the DMA (Defense Media Activity) mission in direct support of excepted military operations and activities.”

Harrington said AFN is taking care not to provide programs beyond news and information which can be clearly tied to direct support of force protection, situational awareness and readiness.

AFN has no plans to screen baseball playoff games while the shutdown is in effect, he said.

Gone, too, are the NFL and college football.

There is a little consolation: AFN Radio channels are still on air.

“Sport events will air on ‘Fans’ and ‘Clutch’ as normally scheduled, with some games simulcast on ‘The Voice,’ ” Harrington said.

At Yokota Air Base, Japan, the televisions in the Enlisted Club were showing news Thursday evening, rather than the sporting events popular with patrons.

One of those at the bar, housing renovation project manager T. Bourland, said he’s upset at the prospect of not being able to watch the Oakland Raiders play the San Diego Chargers this weekend.

“We are losing out enough (with cuts to other base services),” he said. “Sports is critical to sports fans, and the season is only so long.”

Harrington said AFN doesn’t have the manpower to run its sports channel because civilian staff have been furloughed due to the shutdown.

“We are keeping the AFN|news channel running with a handful of military operators working 24 hours a day to keep the information flowing,” Harrington said.

Bourland wasn’t persuaded by that argument.

“All they have to do is have somebody go in the studio and turn on a switch,” he said. “Overseas we suffer even more (than personnel on U.S. bases). People in the States don’t have to suffer the consequences of not being able to watch TV.”

Air Force Staff Sgt. Steven Jones, 28, said the sports shutdown will likely hurt morale in his unit of security forces airmen at Yokota.

AFN’s sports channel is on virtually day and night in their offices, he said.

“I work a mid-shift (11 p.m. to 6 a.m.), and that’s when the football is on,” the Cincinnati Bengals fan said.

Jones said he can still monitor his fantasy football team on his mobile phone but that it will be tough missing the spectacle of football and the baseball playoffs.

The sports shutdown is also frustrating troops in Afghanistan.

“I’m a [New York] Giants fan, so it does suck,” said Staff Sgt. Lorenzo Zabatta, a member of III Corps based at Kabul. Still, he said he doesn’t bother trying to use online streaming or tune in to international sports programming. “You just start trading movies more.”

Lt. Uriel Macias, a Navy reservist assigned to a stability operations team in Kabul, said while he is not an avid sports fan, he has noticed an impact on others who work in his office.

“They have to use the online play-by-play sites, and sit there and refresh it over and over again,” he said. “Sports are an escape for a lot of people here, so it can be a little frustrating for them.”

As if to taunt frustrated fans, AFN Europe’s website hadn’t caught up with the shutdown Friday; it still listed a schedule that included a smorgasbord of professional and college football, baseball, basketball, golf and even bull-riding over the next few days.

Back at Yokota, Bourland said Americans should punish the people responsible for cutting AFN sports by voting out every politician currently serving in national office.

“Whoever is up for election — don’t vote for them,” he said.

Stars and Stripes reporter Josh Smith contributed to this report.


Deployed servicemembers from the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing enjoy Super Bowl XLVII live from an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia on Feb. 4, 2013.

AFN may not be able to show all its normal programming during the federal government shutdown, but at least some of its old spots are still available to watch thanks to YouTube.