President Donald Trump has returned to one of his go-to topics: bashing the NFL. In the midst of a flurry of Tuesday morning tweets touting tax reform and praising the First Lady, Trump took a routine swipe at the league and protesting players:
At least 24 players kneeling this weekend at NFL stadiums that are now having a very hard time filling up. The American public is fed up with the disrespect the NFL is paying to our Country, our Flag and our National Anthem. Weak and out of control!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 28, 2017
It would seem that something weak would be easy to control, but that’s neither here nor there. Trump is once again playing the big chords: falling attendance, disrespect and weakness. There’s nothing new here, but wrapping oneself in the flag and bashing allegedly unpatriotic players is a surefire, easy way to fire up Trump’s populist base. Although the players have taken pains to say on near-constant occasion that they are protesting systemic racial inequality, not the military, a wide swath of Americans views the protests as inappropriately timed and disrespectful to the flag.
It’s undeniable that the NFL has suffered severe hits to its popularity, attendance and public standing in recent years, but despite what the league’s very vocal opponents wish to claim, it’s not clear that the protests are a significant cause of the damage.
We’re long past the point where facts matter in this, or really any, public debate, but let’s try anyway. Yes, NFL ratings are down by a significant margin; the Thanksgiving games were both miserable and a ratings disappointment. But it’s worth noting that NASCAR, which is the most aggressively patriotic and anti-protest sport in America, suffered enormous ratings losses this past season as well. “The Walking Dead,” a show once so popular it rivaled the NFL for Sunday night supremacy, has seen its ratings fall to its lowest in six years, and it’s probably not because the zombies are kneeling. In fact, one notable cultural critic pinpointed some far more cogent reasons for the NFL’s decline three years ago:
The @nfl ratings continue to fall every week and will keep dropping. Boring games–too many flags–too soft!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2014
Protests aren’t helping the NFL’s overall image, but quality of play and oversaturation are far more likely culprits for its decline than political ones.
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