Former New York Giants football coach Bill Parcells had a maxim that he used when people would talk about how losing teams were actually better than they appeared: “You are what your record says you are.”
In this final weekend of the 2017 regular season for the National Football League, we should remember those words as we head into the post-season. For no matter how the hoopla of the playoffs and the Super Bowl may disguise it, the league is in trouble, based on its track record of negativity for the season.
TV ratings are down, sponsors and advertisers are worried, player concerns are largely unmollified, and attendance in many cities is spotty. The NFL is a league that relies on ever-increasing numbers and television ratings for its momentum. No matter how they dress up the situation, every key indicator of fan interest – which is the true driver of the league – has an arrow pointing down.
The core fans are getting older and angrier; youth leagues are losing players over concussion and CTE concerns, and younger adults don’t care to spend time watching a four-hour game; sports rights acquisitions may produce less revenue in the future as the audience diminishes; and the players who make up the league can’t even be induced with a $100 million donation to their causes to stop angering their base with national anthem protests.
That may backfire on some of the athletes who have been the core instigators, as a few free agents may find that the owners in the league are wary of bringing disruptive forces aboard. A few players might wind up being Kapernick’d, forced out of the league before their time.
In short, this 2017 NFL regular season will be remembered for being all about things that had little to do with the game and everything to do with outside concerns. No longer is the focus on the field – instead, the NFL finds itself attacked by everyone from the President to its players to a healthy selection of fans.
That means if Parcells is right, based on its record of alienating customers, the NFL is headed toward gradually diminished revenue and an erosion of its place in the entertainment pantheon. It may not happen all at once, but it’s not great for long-term prospects.
The final round-up of national anthem protests via kneeling, sitting and fist-raising saw the usual players protesting.
Once again, the Seattle Seahawks led the league in sheer number of protesting players. As they have for most of the season, a healthy group of defensive linemen took a seat during the national anthem. They included Dion Jordan, Frank Clark, Marcus Smith, Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson, Jarran Reed, Quinton Jefferson and Branden Jackson. They were joined in sitting by linebacker Paul Dawson. Left tackle Duane Brown took a knee next to the squatters, with center Justin Britt placing a hand on Brown’s shoulder in support.
Close behind the Seahawks in the national anthem protests – but not the standings – came the San Francisco 49ers. Taking a knee during the anthem were safety Eric Reid, linebacker Eli Harold, receiver Louis Murphy and receiver Marquise Goodwin. Safety Adrian Colbert and linebacker Reuben Foster stood behind the kneelers with a supportive hand on their shoulders. Their opponents, the Los Angeles Rams, saw linebacker Robert Quinn raise his right fist, while punter Johnny Hekker wrapped his arm around him in support. Wide receiver Tavon Austin and running back Todd Gurley locked arms.
Left tackle Russell Okung of the Los Angeles Chargers, again raised his right fist during the national anthem.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews stayed in the locker room before his game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, repeating an anthem protest he has done throughout the season.
Finally, New York Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon kneeled during the national anthem before his game against the Washington Redskins, repeating a gesture he has done all season, even when injured and not dressed for the games.