The National Football League has indicated there will be “no change” in its policy on player conduct during the national anthem, despite a campaign to boycott Sunday’s games over kneeling during the song.
The NFL policy indicates that players “should” stand during the anthem, but has no mandatory requirements. Many teams have asked players to stay inside as a protest rather than kneel or sit, which some have followed in the weeks after it was instituted.
Boycott The NFL, a Facebook page on the national anthem issue, has called for supporters to tune out Sunday games “in solidarity with veterans around the country.” So far, 22,000 people have indicated on Facebook that they will turn off the TV for games.
The conservative watchdog group 2ndVote also asked fans to “stiff-arm the NFL.”
“We’re sending the National Football League, its corporate sponsors, and the television networks a message this Veterans Day weekend!” said a 2ndVote statement. “Americans are sick of the disrespectful National Anthem protests that the NFL has not only allowed to continue, but has institutionalized in pregame ceremonies.
“Remember, several of the companies that do business with the NFL like DirecTV and Anheuser-Busch have signaled just how bad of a PR disaster the protests have been,” said 2ndVote. “Join us this weekend and we’ll hit the NFL and all of its sponsors where it counts!”
Viewership for NFL football games is down 5 percent from last year. Nielsen reports the average NFL game attracts 14.8 viewers, down from 15.6 million at the same point in the season last year. The decline is less than that between 2015 and 2016, when viewership dropped 14 percent, but is still down from that massive drop.
There are signs that the player kneel-downs and other protests are waning. The Seattle Seahawks stood during the national anthem for Thursday’s away game against the Arizona Cardinals. About six to eight Seahawks players had been sitting or kneeling during the anthem, but defensive end Michael Bennett (one of the leading kneelers) said the team decided to stand as a show of support for the military in honor of Veterans Day.
The NFL Players Association said a two-minute moment of silence for veterans will be observed today, and other ceremonies are planned.
So far, there have been no reports of player protests in early games, and even long-time protestors have avoided anything controversial.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews, who has largely stayed in the tunnel for the national anthem in prior games, walked onto the field holding hands with soldiers. He also stood with teammates for the first time since President Donald Trump criticized players for protesting.
The afternoon games offered a different story, as players who have protested before continued to demonstrate during the national anthem.
The San Francisco 49ers continued to be the league’s leading protestors, as safety Eric Reid and receiver Marquise Goodwin again took a knee during the national anthem, as they have done all season. Wide receiver Louis Murphy held up his right fist during the anthem. It was his first game since signing with the team this week.
For their opponents, the New York Giants, Olivier Vernon again was the only team member to protest, taking a knee during the national anthem. Vernon has protested even while injured and inactive, but Sunday’s game marked his return in uniform.
The Los Angeles Rams saw linebacker Robert Quinn put his right fist in the air during the national anthem. Quinn was ill and inactive for the game. Punter Johnny Hekker again put his arm around Quinn in support. as he has done for several games.
The New Orleans Saints again knelt as a team before the anthem, then rose together for the song, with some players and coaches locking arms in solidarity.