Opinion: Will the NFL Ever Realize that Choosing Politics Over Their Fans Was a Bad Call?

Archie Phil

In a new op-ed, Lauren DeBellis Appell of Fox News wondered when the National Football League will finally realize that it is destroying its all-American brand by allowing the constant anti-American protests mounted during the playing of the national anthem.

Appell begins her January 23 editorial noting that the best bets are on the New England Patriots to win next month’s Super Bowl, But adds, “no matter who wins it’s clear the NFL is this season’s biggest loser.”

The NFL, Appell said, was faced with a public relations nightmare when players began protesting against the country during the anthem. Sadly the league failed its test.

“Many Americans found it outrageous and disrespectful to the men and women who fought and died for our country,” Appell said, “and believed these protests served no purpose on the field.”

Appell insisted that these players should find other outlets to make their opinions heard. Indeed, she thinks their celebrity status would be a plus for such an effort.

“Any NFL player, especially a quarterback,” she wrote, “would get as much airtime as they wanted on local TV and would be welcomed into any local police precinct to discuss any issue they cared about — it would be standing room only.”

But with 52 percent of Americans saying that they disagree with the anthem protests, Appell says that game time is the wrong time for players to indulge their activism.

“For them to pull a political stunt, and for the NFL to continue to enable it, while alienating more than half of its fan base, is just bad business,” Appel wrote. “Not to mention, nothing these players say they’re fighting against has changed since these protests have started.”

Even though the conditions the players claim to be protesting haven’t changed at all since the protests began, Appell notes that one thing has changed.

“What has changed is the number of people opting to stay home this season. Twenty-two NFL teams saw fewer fans in their stadiums, and as a result, attendance dropped by three percent in 2017,” she noted.

“Not only are more people staying home this season, but they are also opting to turn off their TVs and sit out football altogether,” she added pointedly.

The NFL’s ratings for 2017 fell nine percent for the regular season compared to the previous year, including a significant drop in ratings for prime time contests. Viewership for Sunday Night Football dropped from 20.3 million in 2016 to 18.2 million in 2017; Monday Night Football went from 11.4 million in 2016 to 10.8 million in 2017; and Thursday Night Football dropped from 12.4 million in 2016 to 11 million in 2017.

The NFL’s unfavorable rating also hit the highest of any major sport in 2017, topping off at 40 percent, according to a survey by the Winston Group. Just a couple of years ago the consensus among sports commentators was that football had replaced baseball as America’s number one sport.

The protest may have claimed at least one NFL official, Appell said.

Last week, NFL executive vice president of communications and public affairs Joe Lockhart resigned from his post saying that he wanted to spend more time with his family. That’s usually the explanation we hear from politicians who, for whatever reason, have to end their careers — when it’s really code for something more serious.

Appell went on to lament the fact that “political agendas have hijacked the former number one sport” and crushed a game that used to bring us together instead of dividing us.

“The NFL used to be a sport that brought people of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds together on Sunday afternoons.,” she said. “Team loyalty ran deep, and there was a common bond you’d share with people loyal to the same team.”

Appell ends by scolding the league for its failure to properly address the player protests.

“At a time where there is much we can disagree on in the world, when it comes to football the only thing dividing us should be whether or not Brady and the Patriots deserve a sixth Super Bowl ring,” she said.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.

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