The conflict between Donald Trump and the NFL has been one of the most fascinating events in the recent American culture war. It’s part of the larger dissatisfaction among mainstream Americans with the entertainment industry–which has largely become a platform for the promotion of left-wing causes.
According to The Washington Times, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has taken action on behalf of fans who consider football players’ widespread kneeling during the national anthem to be disrespectful. Goodell sent team owners a letter on Tuesday saying he wants players to stand during the anthem–and also said a possible rule change will be discussed at the league’s meeting next week.
Goodell’s remarks to owners took on a conciliatory tone and argued that the protests are causing division. “Sports, and especially the NFL, brings people together and lets them set aside those divisions, at least for a few hours,” Goodell wrote.
The NFL commissioner continued: “The current dispute over the national anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country.”
President Trump took to Twitter Tuesday morning to herald Goodell’s decision, writing, “It is about time that Roger Goodell of the NFL is finally demanding that all players STAND for our great National Anthem-RESPECT OUR COUNTRY.”
The new change in direction came in response to major backlash from football fans. As noted by NJ.com, many fans went so far as to burn season tickets and jerseys as a way of displaying their frustration with the national anthem protests.
NFL ratings are down. Both Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football experienced season lows this week. According to the Washington Examiner, ticket sales have declined by 17.9 percent.
Goodell’s new stance against protesters was possibly motivated by President Trump’s public condemnation of the tax break advantages offered to the NFL, which also enjoys the benefits of being exempted from federal anti-trust laws.
“Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country?” President Trump posted to Twitter on Monday. “Change tax law!” The controversy provoked by the protesting players has placed the financial interests of the league in jeopardy. The NFL has likely determined that it has more to lose by alienating its base than by angering its players.
The sports network ESPN is following the same path. As Fox News reports, ESPN suspended politically vocal sportscaster Jemele Hill for two weeks after she called on her fans to boycott advertisers of the Dallas Cowboys in retaliation for owner Jerry Jones’s decision to bench any player who refuses to stand for the national anthem.
The politicization of professional football has prompted sponsors like Hardwick Clothes and Check Into Cash to pull their advertising dollars from the NFL.
Sports fans apparently prefer watching games free of political activism. Faced with major financial losses, it seems the NFL is at last willing to give their audience what it wants. The question is whether even a complete overhaul will be enough to salvage the league, or whether the damage is already too great to repair.