by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
[T]he NFL is in deep trouble like never before.
In 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem. He claimed he was protesting the treatment of African Americans.
Kaepernick was an odd revolutionary. His mother is white, his father is an African American of Ghanaian-Nigerian ancestry, and he was raised by a middle-class white couple. Kaepernick’s only prior controversy was being accused by another player of using the N-word. He denied it but was still fined by the league.
Kaepernick’s rejection of “The Star-Spangled Banner” eventually spread throughout the NFL. Even though he was a backup quarterback, Kaepernick became a #Resistance idol. Soon he was a corporate ad man, pitching Nike sneakers.
Then game attendance fell. So did television viewership. Apparently, lots of fans had no desire to spend their Sundays watching 20-something multimillionaires lecture them that the American flag was not worth honoring.
In 2018, the league belatedly banned players from kneeling for the national anthem. By then, Kaepernick had left football and become a megaphone for even more corporate sponsors.
Now the NFL is in the news amid national protests and violence following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police.
The inspirational song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — also known as the black national anthem — will be played before every game of the first week of the season. The league is considering letting players wear protest insignia on their helmets or jerseys. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized to players for not listening to them about racism.
Yet the NFL capitulation poses fundamental problems for the league. It has now essentially green-lighted the sort of activism that has been eating away its profits in the past few years.