In October, I wrote a Race and Politics column titled, “The NFL is Dead To Me.” It still is.
But, I feel compelled to report that a lot of White men, egged on by Donald J. Trump, may be really killing the NFL, a league owned primarily by White Republican men.
During last weekend’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Detroit Lions, there were swaths of empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium, which had been an extremely rare sight in Baltimore since the Ravens captured their Super Bowl championship in 2000. But, it is a sight being repeated often at NFL stadiums around America this season.
According to Forbes magazine, the NFL is down three to four million viewers per game (depending on the team) versus the 2013 and 2014 seasons. It’s a drop in excess of 20 percent.
Trump would have us all believe the NFL decline in TV viewership and attendance at games is all due to his incessant, unmoored and racially motivated tweets aimed primarily at Black ballplayers. The vast majority of those men take a knee during the national anthem in protest of police brutality against people of color, as well as other manifestations of American structural racism.
Trump’s tweets typically take the tone of the one he tweeted Oct. 18:
“The NFL has decided that it will not force players to stand for the playing of our National Anthem. Total disrespect for our great country!”
It seems clear Trump is simply playing to his White political base, tapping into the same racial animus he mined as king of the birther movement. What is also clear is the league is losing a lot of money.
However, the reality is the league is also losing viewers in great part due to the lack of quality play this season, as well as a significant number of Millennial NFL fans, many who eschew watching games on television (historically the league’s prevailing metric for measuring viewership) for other devices (laptops, phones).
Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback of the San Francisco 49’ers, who sparked the movement with his one man protest initially sitting during the national anthem in a preseason game against the Packers in August 2016, was given Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy award this week. The award was presented to him at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn by none other than Beyoncé.
“I say this as a person who receives credit for using my platform to protest systemic oppression, racialized injustice and the dire consequences of anti-Blackness in America,” Kaepernick said after receiving the award. “I accept this award not for myself, but on behalf of the people.”
Malcolm X, one of the greatest Americans of the 20th century, gave his life for some of the ideals Kaepernick has embraced. In the, Autobiography of Malcolm X, he said, “It was, as I saw it, a case of ‘the chickens coming home to roost.’ I said that the hate in White men had not stopped with the killing of defenseless Black people, but that hate, allowed to spread unchecked, had finally struck down this country’s Chief Magistrate,” X said referring to the assassination of President John Kennedy.
For decades, the NFL has been the most popular professional sports league in America, with a rabid fan base of millions that generated hundreds of millions of dollars in profits for the league’s rich, White mostly Republican owners.
When Kaepernick took a seat, and then a knee in protest of “racialized injustice” he was effectively blackballed from the NFL by those White owners who objected to Kaepernick’s politics (the former 49’ers quarterback filed a grievance against NFL owners for collusion for keeping him out of the league because of his political views). Now, many Black NFL players, in a league dominated by rich Black athletes, but ruled by richer White men have followed Kaepernick’s lead.
How delightfully ironic is it that Trump, America’s current “Chief Magistrate,” the great stirrer of racial strife, has stoked the flames of White resentment within the NFL’s once loyal fan base, which has cost many of his White Republican pals millions of dollars in the process? Perhaps even more ironic (or just) is the goals of many who had initiated boycotts of the NFL because of the league’s stance on Kaepernick are witnessing the financial disruption they had hoped for due in great part to White backlash against the take a knee movement.
The chickens coming home to roost indeed.
Sean Yoes is Baltimore editor of the AFRO and host and executive producer of the AFRO First Edition video podcast, which airs Monday and Friday at 5 p.m. on the AFRO’s Facebook page.