The NFL opened its season last Thursday night with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, their marquee quarterback Tom Brady, and a very good opponent in the Kansas City Chiefs. The result was an exciting game with plenty of scoring and a 12 percent dip in the ratings from last year’s opening game between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos.
Last year, the NFL blamed a big ratings dip on interest in the presidential race. After this game, they started to suggest that the ratings dip was due to the public’s interest in Hurricane Irma. I think the dip is most likely developing around the storm brewing over the spectacle of NFL players taking a knee or protesting in other ways during the playing of the national anthem. In fact, Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters sat on the bench during the anthem and did not even remove his helmet.
A Yahoo/YouGov survey in September 2016 found that 44 percent of fans warned that they would stop watching football if the anthem protests continued. When you combine that with a recent poll with J.D. Power, a global marketing firm, that stated most fans cited the anthem protests as the main reason why they stopped watching the league, the Hurricane Irma theory falls flat.
Most people who call my show object to the disrespect that they think players have for the country by not standing at attention for the anthem. The bigger problem for me is that these protests are fueling a big lie — the meme that police routinely shoot unarmed black men. This is the narrative peddled by Black Lives Matter and former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and now routinely pitched by substantial numbers of NFL players.
I don’t think the sports media are doing a good enough job in getting protesting players to acknowledge the point of their protests. They are allowed to prattle on about vague problems in America. This is a very public and high-profile attack on police.
The sports media in general not only don’t challenge the protesting athletes, they also provide cover for them.
ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, host of The Jump television show, used the fact that athletes raised millions of dollars for hurricane-ravaged Texas relief efforts to say that athletes should not just stick to playing their sports, but should also be involved in social issues.
“You can’t applaud athletes for putting their passion and resources into addressing the very real and physical damage caused when a person loses their house to a flood, but criticize athletes for putting those same passions and resources into addressing the very real and physical damage caused, when say, an unarmed person is shot and killed,” she said.
First, no one is saying that it’s not a good thing for athletes to use their fame and recognition, as Texans star J.J. Watt has done in Houston to aid people after Hurricane Harvey. I think it’s fine for athletes to speak out on social issues. However, I don’t think athletes can hijack NFL pregames to attack the work of police who put their lives on the line every day.
This defense by an ESPN personality is typical of the political stance such media figures have taken. They also have lost substantial audience. They ignore the character flaws of pro athletes but are quick to paint a picture of an American society that is deeply flawed.
Do ESPN and protesting athletes think that these continuing protests will force football fans to agree with them? Do they think that being lectured to by millionaire athletes will result in anything good? Do they think showing disrespect to the values of many Americans will force people of good will to see the police differently?
Eagles football often brings people of all races together in Philadelphia, united by a desire to win, and hatred of Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys. Eagles football is a great vehicle to raise money for charities that benefit a lot of kids. I don’t think it’s a vehicle to litigate the actions of the Philadelphia police in life-and-death situations.
As far as remedies to the debates that follow many publicized police shootings, we now often have video evidence. Let’s look at the merits of each case and follow that sports adage of calling them as we see them.