It’s been a bizarre season for the National Football League. National anthem protests, attacks by President Donald Trump, owners calling players “inmates” – the season has been a parade of strange occurences that had nothing to do with the game.
It’s also been a season-long face-off between two sides with hardened positions – players who believe in the righteousness of their cause, and owners convinced that the protests are killing the business.
Here’s the thing – this week’s news may have topped it all.
Following on the heels of earlier complaints by Papa John’s pizza that the NFL protests were hurting sales comes Sanderson Farms, one of the country’s biggest poultry producers. This week, the NFL was blamed for a slump in chicken wing sales by their chief company executive.
Joe F. Sanderson Jr., the CEO, said after an earnings call that his vendors think chicken wings consumption is down because of the NFL anthem protests. The company’s shares fell 13 percent on that news.
Given Sanderson’s comments, it may be that this year’s Super Bowl week, typically the peak period for wings consumption, may be the true Super Bowl for the poultry’s business – a true “win or go home” situation as far as their yearly sales figures. In any event, the continued upset of advertisers and sponsors does not auger well for a league that is fueled by television.
Following that news, wrestling mogul Vince McMahon indicated he’s contemplating revival of the XFL, the television-driven league that lasted just one year at the turn of the century. Like a great wrestling villian, McMahon may sense weakness in his opponent, and is looking to exploit that weakness by scooping up disgruntled fans looking for an alternative.
Finally, topping the week was news that the NFL Network itself may be harboring sexual harassers. Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk along with fellow analysts Ike Taylor and Heath Evans wer suspended from duties while an investigation into allegations raised by a wardrobe stylist is conducted.
The NFL is admittedly an easy target at the moment. But as evidence piles up – slumping TV ratings (this week’s Thursday game hit a season low with a dog game between the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts) are just one proof of waning interest. Add in the cord-cutting and online alternatives eating into broadcasting rights, the lack of Millennial interest in three-hour football games, and youth football leagues vanishing because of injury concerns, and things are starting to look a tad grim.
Except for the chickens. They couldn’t be happier at the state of things.
Deadline’s report on this week’s anthem kneelers, fist-raisers and sitters:
At the Meadowlands, Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon, who was fined more than $18,000 for a late hit on Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott last week, continued his season-long anthem protest. Vernon has stated he will not end his protest until the public understands the real message behind his actions.
In New Orleans, the Saints continued the team’s season-long practice of kneeling in unity before the national anthem, then rising during the song, with some players and coaches locking arms.
Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills and tight end Julius Thomas kneeled during the national anthem before their game against the Buffalo Bills. That continues their season-long protest, but they were missing a third player who has previously joined them. Safety Michael Thomas is injured and did not make the trip.
For the Los Angeles Chargers, left tackle Russell Okung stood with his right fist raised during the national anthem, as he has done for most of the season. Okung has also indicated there is no expiration date on his protests.
The Kansas City Chiefs welcomed back cornerback Marcus Peters, who remained in the tunnel for the national anthem, as he has done most of the season. He had been sitting on a sideline bench before opting for the tunnel.
The Seattle Seahawks again led the league in national anthem protesters. Before their game against the Los Angeles Rams, a group of Seahawks crowded the bench during the song. They included Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Nazair Jones, Dion Jordan, Sheldon Richardson, Marcus Smith III, Quinton Jefferson, Jarran Reed, Frank Clark, Branden Jackson, and Paul Dawson. Left tackle Duane Brown took a knee next to the sitters, while center Justin Britt stood next to Brown, placing a hand on his shoulder in support.
For the Rams, linebacker Robert Quinn again raised his right fist in the air during the anthem, with punter Johnny Hekker wrapping an arm around him a show of support. Receiver Tavon Austin and running back Todd Gurley locked arms during the anthem.
Close behind the Seahawks in national anthem protesting – but not wins – are the San Francisco 49ers. This Sunday’s tally saw four team members take a knee during the national anthem, including safety Eric Reid, receivers Marquise Goodwin and Louis Murphy, and linebacker Eli Harold. In back of them stood linebacker Reuben Foster, defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and safety Adrian Colbert, each with a hand on the shoulder of the kneelers in support.
For the Tennessee Titans, wide receiver Rishard Matthews kept his long-running habit of staying in the locker room during the national anthem.