A sentiment has brewed that the 10% diminish in NFL ratings is due to on-field protests during the national anthem. A J.D. Power poll of 9,200 people insists otherwise, with just 3% of those surveyed claiming the protests as their reason tuning out. Nonetheless, the NFL has implemented a policy to scale back the expressive freedom of it’s players during the anthem.
Applying some non-prescription Rite Aid spectacles, one can clearly see other reasons why American football has become less attractive to the average viewer:
- The talent level, specifically in the AFC, was abysmally low this past season. This is great if you’re a Patriots fan watching Tom and Bill waltz to yet another Super Bowl appearance. It’s not great if you like watching quality football games.
- Long have there been complaints that excitement for the game is diluted by the regularity of it’s programming. With a relatively standard cable package, you have access to 5+ games per week, or roughly 15 hours of football. That’s a lot.
- Many are ditching cable packages altogether. They are expensive, and lower-cost alternatives like Netflix and Amazon Prime are available. This portion of fans may instead watch at a sports bar or friend’s house, sharing the broadcast and decreasing perceived viewership.
- Let’s look at this year’s notable injuries: Odell Beckham Jr. went down early in the season, stealing New York’s biggest football star and deflating its favored team’s prospects. Aaron Rodgers, perhaps the league’s premier quarterback, missed most of the season with a broken collarbone. “America’s team”, the Dallas Cowboys, struggled in large part because their suspended star, Ezekiel Elliott, missed 6 full games. Other notable names who suffered season-defining injuries include J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck, David Johnson, and Allen Robinson, along with many more. The result: A depleted level of competition and therefore a less desirable product as a whole.
- Franchises with outspoken ownership against any from of protest during the anthem, such as Jerry Jones and Bob McNair, may have dissuaded viewership more than the protests themselves.
- The NFL’s highly criticized handling of domestic violence and traumatic brain injuries could have lead viewers to abandon support.
Knowing the above, it’s impossible to isolate which factors had the most profound impact on the 10% ratings decline. What we can glean is that blaming the 10% drop, and resulting profit loss, on the protests is disingenuous.
Rather, what we have is a collection of ivory tower, predominantly White, segregation-era billionaires, using their favorite “bad guy” mouthpiece, Roger Goodell, to enforce their control over a socially active, predominantly Black base of employees. Alone, the massive checks these men cut from their modern-day bloodsport participants aren’t enough. They must also bludgeon freedom and sanction conformity. They must dominate the mind and will of their subordinates.
“The NFL, like the NHL, has this weird issue where their players are popular for going against the grain of the institution because the institution is so strict in its code of conduct,” Rising Young Minds’ co-founder Chris Walkerpointed out. “The only difference is that no one gives a shit about the NHL and hockey is White as fuck.”
Well said. Just look at the recent clash between the NHL and its players, namely Washington Capitals’ star, Alex Ovechkin. As one of the sport’s biggest names, his vocal bitterness for being denied the ability to represent himself and his country in the Winter Olympics during the NHL regular season is quite declarative. Sure, it’s not an exact comparison, but it is a controversy involving a major sports league denying its players the ability to symbolize a calling bigger than themselves. Objectively, it’s been a relative non-factor in the mainstream when compared to Black NFL players taking a knee during a song. The integral difference is that Ovechkin argued against a policy already in place, while the NFL has moved to silence the voice of its athletes; a voice illuminating injustice; a voice championing equality.
The NBA, one may cite, has a long-standing policy mandating that its players stand for the anthem. Why no fuss there, they have a lot of Black players? To start, the policy was instituted before, rather than after, political action was taken during the song. It was also made with the intent of keeping players from dribbling or shooting throughout its duration, not to eliminate expression. NBA players today have not felt the need to rebel against the policy because they feel a healthy partnership with the league, which has made a conscious effort empower their voices.
Just recently, the Milwaukee Bucks were free to publicly condemn police brutality after one of the team’s players, Sterling Brown, fell victim. Before a 2014 game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets, several players wore shirts bearing the words “I Can’t Breathe”, raising awareness for Eric Garner, who died as a result of excessive force applied by police officers. In 2016, players for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx wore Black Lives Matter t-shirts for pregame warmups. Compare this to the NFL which, as of 2017, is finally loosening the leash and permitting players to wear custom cleats during warmups. Naturally, as one might expect, any political statements on the footwear are expressly forbidden.
So what can you, the conscientious fan, do to directly communicate your displeasure to the NFL? The only thing the organization and its franchise owners hold more dearly than their Jim Crow MAGA fantasy is the fatness of their wallets. Therefore, it is most poignant to boycott their product.
I understand this is a difficult detox. We don’t watch the game to benefit its owners, we watch as a celebration of our cities and the athletes who represent them. Or, in my case, for an unhealthy fantasy football addiction. Some will seek out alternative methods of viewership, perhaps via illicit online steam. While this may seem like a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too scenario, it is also illegal and not recommended by myself or The RYM.
If you’re further worried about showing support for your favorite athletes, many of them have charities and business ventures. Vote with your dollar! Invest directly in those you cherish. Send your admiration via Tweets and fan mail. Go to one of those create-a-t-shirt websites. Whatever. There’s plenty of ways to voice your endorsement, get creative!
Lastly, I would like to shout out Jets’ Chairman, Christopher Johnson, for supporting his players against such a morally decrepit policy. While he was always subject to a fine by the NFL for any on-field protest during the anthem, he deserves credit for putting his weighty balls on the other 31 owner’s desks, empowering his players to speak up for their beliefs with the following:
“If somebody [on the Jets] takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players.”
Cheers to my freedom-loving football fans. Together, we can make the NFL an institution dedicated to liberty and justice for all. Let’s do this.
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