Patriotism and the NFL

In 2016 season, the National Football League lost about 6% of its viewers– approximately one million fans—as compared to the previous year’s statistics. League officials were quick to point out the slump was due to the presidential political campaign and viewership would return once that was done.

This year, there has been a much larger drop in the NFL viewing audience—now the decline is in excess of 20%. And it’s not just the TV viewers who are finding other things to do on Sunday afternoons, Monday and Thursday evenings. Attendance at the games is also taking a significant hit. Even season ticket holders are staying home. The TV crews at the stadiums seem to be doing all they can to avoid showing just how empty the stadiums have become but social media is filled with photos showing the reality—there are lots of empty seats.

Football has long been America’s favorite sport. Has it lost its appeal to sports fans? Probably not—college football seems to be filling stadiums all over the country. In fact, a single University of Southern California football game had more fans in attendance than the combined attendance of 3 L.A. Rams home games. Same city—vastly different attendance. So, what’s going on with professional football?

The list of alternative explanations being bandied about include Deflategate and Tom Brady’s suspension and legal battles, other off-field matters involving players and the increasing availability of streaming media and video recorders that allow fans to view games at their convenience. Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the National Anthem is also mentioned but generally downplayed as not having that much significance. That factor just might weigh much more heavily than many pundits will acknowledge.

At the end of the 2016 season, Kaepernick became a free agent. Despite having a fairly good quarterback rating, no other team has shown any interest in hiring him. In fact, those teams in need of a quarterback have hired players with much poorer stats than Kaepernick’s. Now, he’s filed a grievance against the NFL for collusion on the part of the team owners.

This year, the kneeling protest started by Kaepernick has expanded significantly. A few players on nearly every pro team are choosing to kneel for the National Anthem. The NFL game operations manual requires the playing of the National Anthem prior to every game and, it states “all players must be on the sideline for the Anthem. Players are instructed to stand at attention, face the flag, hold their helmets in their left hand and refrain from talking. Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations, including first offenses.”

Recently NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met with players and owners at the league headquarters in New York City. Rather than enforce the clear instructions in the game operations manual, he spent very little time even discussing the matter. Instead, he expressed support for “positive social change” and addressed “inequality in our communities.” He also stated “our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military” yet he will continue to allow—and even support—those players who choose to kneel during the National Anthem. Mr. Goodell must have an unusual definition for “respect.”

Why won’t the NFL enforce its own long-standing rules? Perhaps Mr. Goodell is betting that most fans will allow their love of the game to override their disgust at the protests and return to their former viewing habits. The declining statistics for this season ought to be enough to prove that idea wrong.

It’s sad that the players protests against racial injustice and police brutality seem to be confined to game days and only when the National Anthem is played. What are these players doing when they’re not protesting or playing? As a league, the NFL is certainly contributing to the national crime rate. Players are arrested for all kinds of crimes: drunk driving, drug offenses, domestic violence, assault and battery, gun violations, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, theft, burglary, rape and murder. On average, a pro football player is arrested every seven days for one or more of these offenses. (Source:

Perhaps Mr. Goodell is misjudging just how deeply patriotism flows in the veins of the majority of his football fans. Apparently, many football fans are not willing to spend the hard-earned money necessary to attend a pro football game only to be “lectured to” by multi-millionaire football players about social justice. Many fans have also stopped buying NFL-licensed merchandise and at least one major TV provider is now allowing disgruntled subscribers to cancel their NFL viewing package with no penalty. ESPN may already be feeling the impact as the news has leaked they will be firing more than 100 of their staff—to include some who sit in front of the cameras—right after Thanksgiving. The sports TV networks, who have guaranteed advertisers will get so many viewers during the games, are now facing the possibility of refunding advertising dollars due to the recent drop in viewership.

How much worse do things have to get before the commissioner takes real action? Time will tell but one thing is certain. Declining revenues—from season ticket holders, TV viewers and sales of NFL-licensed merchandise—will eventually bring this disrespect for our National Anthem, our Flag and our Nation to an end. It’s sad to consider that the NFL’s “patriotism” is there only for the money it might bring and not out of a true love for our great Nation.

True Patriots know otherwise.