The Politicization of Sports in America

What started with the silent protest of a lone NFL quarterback has morphed into a firestorm of controversy involving just about everyone in America from the stadium hot dog vendor to the President of the United States. With this has come the question that begs to be answered, “Does politics have a place in sports?”

President Trump’s criticism of NFL players who lodge protests during the national anthem and the left’s reaction to his remarks have served to remind us of how divided this nation still is.

At a political rally in Alabama a few days ago, Trump was cheered by the crowd when he said: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now. Out. He’s fired! He’s fired!'”

Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL responded:

“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities,” the statement said.

Determined to keep their teams working as a unit, most owners and coaches have generally sided with their players rather than the President. Giants owners Steve Tisch and John Mara called the President’s comments “inappropriate, offensive and divisive” while 49ers CEO Jed York called them “callous” and “contradictory to what this great country stands for.” Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said: “Our country needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness.”

In the back and forth of words, the real issue has been all but lost. Now every team is locking arms in unity, Hollywood actors are taking a knee, and the liberal left is delighted to blame the whole thing on Trump.

Colin Kaepernick says that he didn’t refuse to stand for the National Anthem to bring unity to football teams and fans but to draw attention to a cause in which he believes. CNN accepts his contention that the issue has nothing to do with respect for the flag but recent polls show the majority of Americans see things differently.

It doesn’t take a legal scholar to know that while it’s true that NFL players have a right to kneel during the national anthem, their fans fund their salaries by buying tickets to games.

To this point, it appears those fans are starting to be heard where it counts – their pocketbooks. The Associated Press reports: “Through three weeks, viewership for national telecasts of NFL games is down 11 percent this season compared to 2016, the Nielsen company said.”

Eleven percent is a loss NFL execs and owners cannot ignore. In the first three weeks of the 2016 season, the NFL averaged 17.63 million viewers. In the first three weeks of this season, the number of viewers has dropped to 15.65 million viewers.

One journalist said: “Note to NFL – It’s not that players don’t have a right to free speech and free expression. It’s that fans do as well — and fans don’t particularly like entitled, coddled and well-paid elitist athletes thumbing their noses at the national anthem, disdaining the very America that provided them with their fame.”

The players appear to be preparing for more political displays, and if so the odds are that viewership will continue its downward slide. If so, advertisers and sponsors face increasing pressure to listen to the public that buys the products and services they advertise.

A great majority of those who follow pro football, the people who pay for tickets that are already exorbitantly high priced and expensive cable tv packages, have expressed how they feel about politics overshadowing the game. There are 1696 players in the NFL but millions who buy their product.

In the end, it will be money that dictates the future of political expression in professional sports. The athletes may make millions but if they and their bosses keep pressing the issue on the anthem their fans anger may well trump whatever message some of the players are pushing.

As one observer noted: “When that happens, it’ll be game over for on-field politics.”

~ American Liberty Report