NFL ratings are down. And they aren’t down by a fraction of a percent, but are down by double digit percentages. For a product that is essentially the same as it was last year, or the previous years, such a rapid decline is shocking. Ratings for “Monday Night Football” are down a staggering 24%. The decline for “Sunday Night Football” is 19% and “Thursday Night Football” is right behind them with an 18% decline.
As league executives, team owners and a host of sports and media experts scrambled to make sense of the steep decline, one definitive poll from Seton Hall found that 56% of NFL fans believe the protests being held during the “Star-Spangled Banner” are to blame. That’s higher than any other reason given — including the presidential elections, oversaturation of sports and the fallout from fan awareness of CTE and traumatic brain injuries. Cord-cutting and expanded streaming options are also likely contributing to the ratings declines.
I believe the poll.
It’s why Donald Trump is actually echoing the results of the poll on the campaign trail and publicly singling out Colin Kaepernick as the singular reason for the decline in the NFL ratings. Trump and his team of white supremacists and bigots know that such a mention would actually resonate with their base. Think about it. One study stated that 83% of NFL fans are white and also said that registered Republicans were 21% more likely to be NFL fans than Democrats. In other words, a significant chunk of NFL fans are Donald Trump supporters. The only real demographic he is winning is white men without college degrees.
So, of course ratings are down and of course the league wide protests are playing a role. Anybody saying otherwise is willfully denying the role of race and racism in America.
Conservative white NFL fans love their teams and even feign loving the players on those teams as long as they keep their mouths closed about the civil and human rights of African-Americans. Sixty-nine percent of players in the league are black. A few more percentage points are from other ethnicities of color. Those numbers are likely to increase in the years ahead.
What we have right now is the stark reality that uneducated conservative white men hate few things more in the world than a fully free black man — particularly a decidedly wealthy, physically fit, fully free black man who unashamedly and unabashedly raises his black fist in the air during the “Star-Spangled Banner.” That’s exactly what we have the NFL right now.
Let’s be honest. As far as the NFL is concerned, it’s absolutely a black and white thing. It’s why 100% of the white players that the Bleacher Report surveyed said they were supporting Donald Trump. It’s also why 100% of the players who’ve taken a knee or raised a fist for injustice are black. The divide on the field is simply representative of the divide off of it. It’s not unique. It represents the deepening divide I see all over this country.
If Donald Trump has done anything, he has deepened the racial divide in this country and emboldened tens of millions of white Americans to embrace their whiteness in ways I’ve never seen in my lifetime. So, when Donald Trump attempted this weekend to use Colin Kaepernick as a political football, he did it because doing so is a popular thing to do with his base. They hate Colin. According to new polls, Colin is far and away the most hated player in the league right now. He’s not hated by black fans, but by conservative white fans who see him as the human personification of so much of what they hate in a black man.
What is it that they hate exactly?
He doesn’t curse. He’s never been in trouble a day in his life. He doesn’t abuse women. He plays hard in every game from start to finish. He’s calm, cool and quiet. He isn’t overtly emotional.
They hate him because he’s free and because he is standing up for victims of injustice who’ve been railroaded by the very system they love and hold dear. Muhammad Ali was widely celebrated when he died earlier this year, but when the man was alive and standing up for black folk, he was widely despised by the same demographic that hates Colin Kaepernick today. But here’s the thing — we’re not going backwards. Black athletes in every sports league in America are standing up in brand new ways and feel fully empowered to do so. It’s amazing that we’ve gotten to this point, but here we are.