The NFL Controversy

Joe* says: I see no point in weighing in on the NFL controversy.

However, I observed when Trump first made his comments about firing players who took a knee that after decades of wrapping itself in the flag, and seeing the mostly negative response to Kaepernick’s protests last year, it was eminently foreseeable that to whatever extent the protests of the players are considered legitimate expression, the number of person who do not usually attend football games or watch them on television who might as a result of the protests, show up or tune in, would be significantly fewer than the number of NFL attendees and television watchers who would stop attending games or watching them on TV.

What we see in our society is that everything is political. Liberals/progressives/leftists try to quell conservative radio hosts by organizing advertising boycotts. They have done the same thing with Breitbart. And conservatives are not above this as well when looking at programming that ideologically they find offensive.

Here the NFL learned the hard way (although anyone really could have foreseen this even before the first Trump tweet) that it is best to steer clear of political controversy in that you will alienate some portion of your audience Even if the NFL fans who end up permanently deserting professional football is only 5% (and from the TV ratings appears to be much higher) that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars in television revenue to the NFL. They may have long term contracts now, but if networks are forced to give back ad buys for failure to deliver the promised audience, that will quickly make its way down to the players.

That is the reason that Roger Goodell (the son of former liberal New York Senator Charles Goodell) put out the letter yesterday that everybody must stand. Ideologically Goodell is sympathetic to the protests of the black players, but as someone who works at the behest of the owners to maximize profits for the league, he was in an untenable position This is the only position he should have taken immediately, instead of now after the damage is done. Look for him to lose his job and look to the NFL to have a heart to heart with its players explaining that their principles (or posturing if you feel that way) simply must take a back seat to keeping the customers coming in for entertainment spectacles. The players will get the message, as this is not a life or death matter of principle, but rather something discretionary that they want to promote.

Again this is not taking sides on whether Trump properly tweeted, or whether Pence properly walked out, or whether the protesters (and coaches and owners) were acting out of deeply held principles protesting something that should have been protested. It is simply an application of (1) how the NFL has branded and marketed itself, (2) the general propensity of NFL fans to be more patriotic (in a traditional sense of honoring the flag and national anthem) than non fans, (3) that the NFL is a business depending on maintaining a high fan base and viewership.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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