In recent years, the NFL has seen a rash of controversies and scandals. In 2014, a horrifying video surfaces of Ray Rice repeatedly striking then-fiancee Janay Palmer and knocking her out cold. Similar incidents involving NFL stars such as Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Junior Galette follow in the ensuing years.
At the same time, the viewing public is becoming more and more aware of the dangers of football and the frequency of serious head trauma. Reports emerge that the NFL actively tried to suppress information about concussions and downplay their role in it. Ex-NFL players sue the league in a class action lawsuit that is settled for $765 million.
Despite the despicable recent behavior of both the players and the league itself, NFL viewership never waned during these controversies (including Defaltegate). In fact, the exact opposite occurred. The 2015 season saw viewership rise for NFL games on NBC, CBS, FOX and NFL Network. Last year’s Week 1 kickoff set an all-time ratings high for the NFL. Only ESPN’s Monday Night Football saw a dip in 2015 and that was due more to cord-cutting than anything else.
But this year, a multitude of factors have come together to drive down NFL TV ratings to dangerous lows. The presidential election is responsible for isolated incidents, such as the first two debates airing against MNF and Sunday Night Football. The continued rise in digital streaming is drawing a chunk of viewers away every week and the poor quality of primetime games isn’t doing the NFL any favors either. But the main cause seems to be the widespread National Anthem protests from players that have inspired the #BoycottNFL campaign online.
A poll from Rasmussen Reports (which is, admittedly, not the most reputable of sources) claims that 33% of viewers are tuning out due to the Colin Kaepernick-led protests. According to Yahoo Sports, of the 27% of polled fans who are watching less football this year, 40% blame the protests. As a result, NFL viewership is in the toilet this season.
Monday Night Football has seen both its worst ratings in NFL history and its two worst showings since ESPN acquired the rights in 2006. Sunday Night Football has sunk to five- and seven-year lows in viewership. The NFL is in serious trouble of losing potentially billions of dollars in the next round of television negotiations.
And you know what? I think we should all be ashamed of ourselves.
I am as proud an American as the next citizen and I wake up every day so appreciative and grateful for the freedoms this country awards us. But the fact that the American viewing public places more importance on a song than it does on protecting women and the players themselves is unbelievable. No one changed the channel when innocent spouses were being beat to a bloody pulp and retired NFL players were suffering from severe cases of CTE and even committing suicide in certain instances. But when a player bends a knee during a two-minute song, everyone loses their minds.
There’s something off-kilter about our priorities these days. Negative backlash aimed at the NFL is long overdue. It’s just too bad we’ve decided to take this silly protest up as our rallying cry.