The National Anthem, Roger Goodell & Jerry Jones
The National Anthem, Roger Goodell & Jerry Jones
The NFL and the National Anthem protests are once again in the news. After weeks of protests, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has issued a memo on the matter. Joe Lockart, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications has said the owners will take up the issue when they meet next week. Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, has said he will bench any player who takes a knee or sits during the playing of the Anthem and the Local 100 Labor Unions have filed a complaint against Jones with the NLRB for his comments. President Trump has threatened to do whatever he can to remove tax breaks teams have enjoyed to help build new stadiums, etc. Lost in all that is a simple truth: the NFL is losing viewers which means losing money and this controversy has done nothing to stem that flow.
And that has all happened in the last few days.
Let’s look at the numbers first. This past Sunday night game registered yet another decline in viewer ratings. Down 3% from the previous week, this marked a low this year for Sunday Night Football. The NFL might not be paying much attention to the ratings but you know those companies buying advertising are. Lower ratings mean fewer potential customers and that will translate to fewer dollars for both the advertisers and the NFL.
Things didn’t look any better for Monday night’s game. Even with the promise of showing a new trailer for the upcoming movie, The Last Jedi, ratings were down 17%. That is a regular season low for ESPn.
And yet the protests continue, even as ratings plummet.
But that’s not the end of the potential trouble facing the NFL. Anyone who lives in a city that hosts an NFL franchise knows the owners and the league play hard ball when it comes to getting and keeping teams. When a team wants a new stadium, local and state governments give up millions in tax dollars to give the team incentives to build there. Sure, they are taking the long view, hoping the investment will pay off with tax dollars and tourism later. But that’s not always the case.
According to a Brookings Institution study, these tax breaks have “shifted at least $3.2 billion from federal taxpayers to pro sports teams from 2000 to 2014.” Think about that. Such tax breaks are a huge benefit to the NFL and the team owners. It is also one President Trump has threatened to end. There can be no doubt the threat is because of the protests.
“Too many of the fans of the Dallas Cowboys perceive this [kneeling during the Anthem] as disrespect for the flag. And so I don’t want our team doing it,” Jerry Jones said. According to Jones, he will bench any player who does not stand during the playing of the National Anthem. This stance, while popular with many of the Cowboys’ fans has proven not to be with the Local 100 United Labor Unions. The union claims the comment is a violaion of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
And where is the NFL in the midst of all this? One thing is certain, it isn’t taking a stance that will satisfy the increasing number of dissatisfied fans.
According to Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s executive VP of communications, the issue will be addressed next week at the owner’s meeting. That’s not enough to satisfy the fans. This issue has been going on all season. The fans understand that the league’s operation manual says players should be on the sideline during the playing of the National Anthem and it goes on to say they should also stand during that time. The manual lays out potential punishment for failing to do so. However, the NFL has, so far, refused to apply any punishment to players who have refused to comply.
Now, finally, with falling ratings and people canceling their Sunday Ticket subscriptions and giving up their season tickets, Lockhart had this to say, “Now, it’s important to come together as an ownership group on a common position to affirm or adjust where we are now.”
Think about that – “to affirm or adjust where we are now.” In other words, they will look for ways to try to keep everyone happy without having to take a stand.
Finally, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the issue, acknowledging there might be a problem. I guess he thought this would be enough of a departure from his earlier statement praising Kaepernick for the protest. However, as with Lockhart’s comments, the memo says little of substance.
Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem. It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us. We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.
All very well and good but nowhere in his memo to the owners does he say anything about addressing the fans’ concerns about the protest. Instead, he talks about showcasing players’ community efforts and making sure the NFL is doing as much as its players and teams. It completely ignores one side of the issue, a very important one.
It is time to ask if the NFL and football is the proper place for these protests to be taking place. More than that, it is time for those taking part in the protests to ask if they are helping or hindering their cause. Would they not make more of an impact on their communities by using their fame as players, not to mention their money, to help the community? Wouldn’t they reach more young men and women by going to schools and talking with them? Or by reaching out to the local first responders, the cops and firemen and paramedics, and helping bridge the gap between them and the various communities in their city?
To give another side of the issue, Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association, penned this op-ed piece. While it is important to remember the importance of allowing people the freedom to express their political opinions, it is just as important to sift through all the dreck and distractions to find the truth. Ask yourselves what that truth is and whether the NFL has been applying a double-standard. It allows players to sit or kneel during the National Anthem even though it is against the provisions of the league’s operations manual – or even to remain in the tunnel during the playing of the Anthem – and yet it wouldn’t allow the Cowboys to wear, for a single game, stickers on their helmets to support police and other first responders after a sniper opened fire during a protest last year, killing and wounding officers with the Dallas Police Department as well as Dallas Area Rapid Transit as well as others.
Considering all this, is Goodell’s statement, combined with Lockhart’s, too little, too late or will it be enough to heal the rift between the NFL and the viewing public?