THOMAS BEYER-BOWDEN | email@example.com
National Football League (NFL) football fields have become a grounds for debate on race relations, patriotism and free speech in the past weeks, following President Donald Trump’s scathing criticism of players kneeling during the national anthem.
The trend of kneeling during the anthem was started last year by former San Francisco 49ers’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Conceived as a protest against police brutality and racial inequality, the action has only recently been widely adopted by players. Many cite when President Trump called on team owners to fire kneeling players, saying “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners when someone disrespects our flag to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He’s fired.’” as the cause of the widespread increase in kneeling.
In response to his statement, over two-hundred players kneeled, locked arms or did not leave their locker rooms for the national anthem during the third and fourth weeks of the season. His response and the ensuing controversy has shifted the dialogue of the protest from Kaepernick’s goal of peaceful protest against police brutality, to a debate on patriotism and free speech.
How the public responds
Public opinion polls have shown a shift recently as 41% of people now believe that kneeling for the national anthem is an appropriate form of protest, up from 32% in 2016 when it was first seen. Further, only 30% of people strongly approve or somewhat approve of President Trump’s handling of the protests, such as when he asked Mike Pence to walk out of the game between the Indianapolis Colts and 49er’s on Oct. 8.
However, anger at Trump has not protected the NFL from serious economic pressure. Assistant Professor of New Media at Parkside, Jacquelyn Arcy, believes that dropping ticket sales and “NFL ratings [being] on a steady decline” have put serious pressure on NFL owners, who are considering a rule change requiring players to stand.
The same can be seen from Fox Sports, who in an interview with Sports Illustrated, stated they would no longer air coverage of the national anthem before games. Dr. Linda Crafton, a Communication’s Professor at Parkside, believes that “Fox Sports’ decision to no longer show coverage of the national anthem before the games aligns Fox with Trump’s inability to recognize the value of a non-violent protest in a democracy and the responsibility of the news media to cover it.” She adds that “it’s important to recognize and continue to ask the question regarding the players’ right to use the anthem as a platform for political dissent.”
The League’s attempts to mollify fans have also not seen success. They have taken in Arcy’s view, “disparate and sometimes contradictory responses to the protest [which] indicate a broader effort to avoid alienating broad swaths of NFL viewers.” Changing the protest from kneeling for the anthem to locking arms, kneeling before the anthem, or not showing up for the anthem at all have failed to quell anger. The problem as Arcy sees it, being that “football audiences straddle partisan divides” and many Trump supporters now view the demonstrations as explicitly partisan.