The NFL player protests during the national anthem have devolved into a circular finger-point of blame, as no resolution of the issue seems in sight, or even possible. This week, Papa John’s Pizza, a disabled veteran, Howard University cheerleaders, a bar owner, and Dodgers broadcasting legend Vin Scully weighed in with their own stances on the controversy.
Scully was the latest to pile on. During a speech Saturday night at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, he was asked about the demonstrations made by NFL players. Scully’s reply: “I will never watch another NFL game again,” according to Sports Illustrated.
“I used to love, during the fall and winter, to watch the NFL on Sunday,” Scully said. “It’s not that I’m some great patriot. I was in the Navy for a year, didn’t go anywhere, didn’t do anything. But I have overwhelming respect and admiration for anyone who puts on a uniform and goes to war. So the only thing I can do in my little way is not to preach. I will never watch another NFL game again.”
The increasingly entrenched positions on the national anthem are having an affect on one crucial demographic beyond actual fans – marketers have told broadcasters that continued spotlighting of the anthem protests will be bad for business.
Linda Yaccarino, the chairman of advertising sales at NBCUniversal, keynoted an event held this week in New York at the ad agency RGA. While Yaccarino said no advertisers had pulled out of NFL games because of the protests, they were indicating that could change. “Marketers have said, ‘We will not be part of the NFL if you continue covering it,'” Yaccarino said.
Yaccarino’s remarks buttressed what Papa John’s pizza founder and CEO John Schnatter said earlier during an earnings call. Schnatter said the firm’s failure to meet earnings projections were the fault of the ongoing protests, and warned that his days as the Official Pizza Sponsor of the NFL may be ending if things don’t improve.
“Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership,” Schnatter said. “The NFL has hurt Papa John’s shareholders.”
Sports Illustrated reported that the NFL averaged 14.772 million viewers during the first eight weeks of the season, per Nielsen data. That’s down five percent from the first half of the 2016 season and off 18.7 percent from the same period in 2015, a time before former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kicked off the current protests.
What all that means is real money is being lost. Add in the angry fans who are threatening to avoid watching, and you have a league whose problems apparently are trending extremely negatively.
Perhaps the backlash is having an effect on player protests – or, at least, media coverage of them. Last week, practically the entire Houston Texans team took a knee during the national anthem. The protest was aimed at the team’s owner, whose comment that the “inmates can’t be running the prison” angered the players. This week, the team honored veterans at their game, and the entire team reportedly stood for the anthem.
Elsewhere in the early games, other teams remained standing during the anthem, as the NFL saluted veterans in many pre-game ceremonies
The Ravens, Buccaneers, Saints, Falcons, Panthers, Bengals, Jaguars, Colts, and Texans had no protests by players.
New York Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon kneeled during the anthem, continuing his protest of several weeks even as he’s been inactive. Vernon is one of the highest-paid Giants but has been hampered by injuries this year. Los Angeles Rams linebacker Robert Quinn raised his right first, with punter Johnny Hekker putting an arm around him in support, actions that have been done for the last few weeks.
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, one of the NFL players who have met with owners, again raised a fist during the national anthem, as he has done for several weeks. Safety Rodney McLeod joined him by raising a fist, continuing the same actioin he has performed for several weeks.Teammate Chris Long showed support by putting a hand on Jenkins’s shoulder.
Tennessee Titans receiver Rishard Matthews again remained in the locker room before the game, while teammates Wesley Woodyard and Jurrell Casey raised a fist at the end of the anthem.
In the late afternoon games, former Houston Texans left tackle Duane Brown, who just joined the Seattle Seahawks via a trade, took a knee during the anthem. Defensive linemen Michael Bennett, Jarran Reed, Marcus Smith, Quinton Jefferson, Sheldon Richardson, Frank Clark and Branden Jackson continued their group protest by sitting during the anthem, as they have for a few weeks. Offensive linemen Justin Britt and Oday Aboushi stood next to the sitting players. However, linebacker Michael Wilhoite, who has taken a knee in recent weeks, stood on Sunday during the anthem.
The San Francisco 49ers, who have been among the most active protestors in the league, again saw multiple players kneel. Safety Eric Reid, receiver Marquise Goodwin, linebacker Eli Harold and cornerback K’Waun Williams knelt during the anthem, while safety Adrian Colbert placed a hand on Goodwin’s shoulder in support.
Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters came out of the tunnel after the national anthem this week, the second week in a row he has done so. Peters previously sat on the bench during the national anthem. For the Chiefs opponents, the Dallas Cowboys, defensive end David Irving raised a fist at the end of the anthem, as he has done for several weeks.