Breaking Down The NFL Protests: How Sports Became Politicalized

The recent national anthem kneelings of NFL players have stirred up much controversy, and results are not what many would predict.

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Every week, more and more NFL players sink to their knees in protest. The National Football League has had these protests of the pre-game national anthem since the infamous Colin Kaepernick protest back in late August in 2016, and continued on with other franchises in that September on. These protests were meant, according to Kaepernick, to bring light to the flaws in the justice system and police brutality, as well as relating back to the rise of Black Lives Matter.

The protests have been matched with mixed results, as many have celebrated these as expressing their right to free speech and standing up (or sitting down in this case) for others who cannot. Those on the other side of the spectrum have lauded it as offensive, repulsive, and disrespectful. Many do agree these players have the “right” to do so, and can if they wish, but that it is disrespectful to the flag and our military who upholds it.

In this recent season, teams such as the Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, and Pittsburgh Steelers have removed themselves entirely, choosing to stay in the locker rooms or tunnel entrance when the national anthem is played. This, as before, was met with harsh criticism from many. In the Steelers versus the Chicago Bears game played on September 24th, 2017, the Steelers chose not to come out. The only player who stood was Alejandro Villanueva, a former US army ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan. He stood by the tunnel entrance, hand over heart, and sang the anthem proudly. Since this, his popularity has shot up all over Twitter, and his jersey sales have skyrocketed to second among Steelers and fifth among all players on Fanatics.com, a popular apparel site. These numbers have risen to first in the entire NFL by mid-Monday, September 25, 2017.

Both sides of this kneeling controversy have only gotten more and more heated since the original protest over a year ago, and it doesn’t look to slow down anytime soon. President Donald Trump, in his first NFL season in his position, has heavily denounced these actions, tweeting, “…NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.”. Many have claimed that Trump has helped create more of this division, claiming that his denouncement of the players’ actions are causing more to kneel.

…NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017

Regardless, the longer these kneeling protests continue, the more average Americans ask, “Why?”. Very little effort has been put into why they are protesting, just the fact that they are. It is arguable it is more of a publicity stunt, as on September 23, a catcher for the Oakland A’s baseball team, Bruce Maxwell, also kneeled down for the anthem, and it has been reported that high school football teams nationwide have begun to kneel as well.

The plight of these NFL protestors is even beginning to spurn on a counter-protest, one named simply the “NFL Boycott”, and its simple goal is to not watch the NFL, buy any merchandise, or attend any games.  According to Forbes, ratings have been hurting since the the original protests, claiming that broadcaster salaries have dropped by $200 million because of the drop in ratings.  The Denver Post also reported that the NFL ratings in the 2016 season “crashed” and “plunged by double digits in the first nine weeks”

Sports need to stay as sports. People watch NFL football on Sunday after working all week and doing chores, errands, and everything in between Saturday. Sunday is the time to kick back, relax, and watch some quality football. With politics overtaking everyone’s lives in every aspect, including award shows, most of all the news, and college life, sports were the last thing to stand. It is understandable that the protesters agreed with this, and that’s why they chose to get sports political, then people would finally pay attention. Yet people still boo players who kneel. People still buy jerseys of players who stand. People still stand and sing the anthem just as loudly and proudly as before.