Will NFL Teams Shy Away from Free Agent Anthem-Kneelers for Box Office Reasons?

AP Matt Dunham
AP Photo/Matt Dunham

After the Kansas City Chiefs recently traded Marcus Peters to the Los Angeles Rams, the talented cornerback did an exclusive interview with NFL Network’s Michael Robinson.

When Robinson asked him what he thought of the getting traded, Peters responded, “It’s business. It’s business.”

Peters could be on to something.

One of the reasons Peters was traded, and there were a few, was likely his protesting during the national anthem last year. Which included riding an exercise bike during “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a Chiefs-Seahawks preseason game.

That didn’t sit well with Chiefs Owner Clark Hunt.

And while players have the First Amendment right to kneel during the national anthem, this practice has turned off some fans, contributing to declining TV ratings and attendance.

So if you own an NFL team, which is a business, would you want employees who are making customers eschew your product?

Once again, the players have the constitutional right to protest during the anthem, but customers have the free market right to stay away if the anthem protests bother them.

The Miami Dolphins had three anthem-kneelers last season and some empty seats, so it should come as no surprise that their owner came out with a strong statement regarding anthem protests (season-ticket renewals go out this time of year).

“All of our players will be standing (in 2018),” Dolphins owner Stephen Ross told the New York Daily News on Monday (he has since backtracked). Though, in a statement to the Sun-Sentinel, Ross later backtracked from those comments, saying that he would not force his players to stand for the anthem.

With NFL free agency starting March 14, it will be interesting to see what kind of market there will be for anthem-kneelers.

49ers free agent safety Eric Reid, a former first-round pick who is extremely talented, is one of the leaders of the anthem-protest movement. Reid, a hard-hitting, instinctive defensive back can certainly help many teams on the field. Is he concerned teams will stay away due to box-office concerns?

“I wouldn’t use the word concerned, I would say I understand that’s a possibility,” Reid said late last season. “And I’m completely fine with it. The things that I’ve done, I stand by, and I’ve done that for my own personal beliefs. Like I said, I’m fine with whatever outcome happens because of that.”

According to the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Texans intend to stay away from anthem-kneelers in free agency.

“There is no directive within the organization, but it is considered to be understood that as desperate as the Texans are to bring in talent, the pool of potential signees and draftees will not include anyone who has participated in protests or are likely to,” wrote Jerome Solomon, who claims he got this info from two sports agents.

The team issued a statement denying this assertion.

It’s unlikely clubs will announce publicly they’re staying away from anthem-kneelers – that would cause a media- firestorm.

But they can stay away without saying why, or just trade a player, without offering an explanation.

Because as Peters said himself, “It’s business.”

And some NFL owners might be wary of acquiring players who could hurt their TV ratings/ticket sales.

Follow Daniel Leberfeld on Twitter @jetswhispers

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