Colin Kaepernick started it. Donald Trump rehashed it. And now the National Football League is paying the price. Kaepernick, who was then with the San Francisco 49ers, started taking a knee during the national anthem, an action that was slammed by Trump at a rally for Sen. Luther Strange in Alabama; Strange would go on to lose the Senate primary to Roy Moore. Trump called the action disrespectful to the flag. The NFL decided to take on the president. The problem was that the fans were not with the league or the players; they were with the president. Seventy-two percent of Americans view Kaepernick’s actions as unpatriotic. This culture battle was over before the first shot was fired.
The NFL is paying the price. Approval for the league is down 13 percent. Ticket sales at week three are down almost 20 percent. Fans are burning merchandise, asking for refunds of their NFL packages, and are booing their teams when they see players take a knee. Is free speech part of this discussion? Sort of—they have the right to do this, but it’s still viewed as spitting in the faces of those who have served and are still serving. We’re still at war in Afghanistan.
Whatever these players’ social cause is goes out the window when people see disrespect to the flag. We’re patriots. Whatever you care about is forever tossed into the garbage bin when fans see players disrespect the flag. Yeah, they may say they support the troops. I’m sure they do—but optics is everything. When you’re explaining, you’re losing and there’s been a lot of that coming from the NFL offices and the players. It doesn’t matter. No one cares—you lost this round. And CNN’s John King reported on Sunday that NFL owners have the data that proves Trump right. “I’m told the owners have research clearly showing the president is right when he says the anthem protests are one factor in a TV ratings drop, and since the president weighed in—the owners are now dealing with a surge in ticket holder requests for refunds,” said King. “Other sports leagues are watching this quite closely.”
The media fell into this trap, GOP presidential candidates fell into this trap, and now the NFL has fallen victim: don’t go to war with Trump. It’s fared poorly for everyone.