I am hopeful that this situation with the NFL and the national anthem goes away soon. Some people may think this kind of discourse reflects positively on our great country … I disagree. As the owner of a sports marketing company in Phoenix, I’m going to give you my take on this situation and its impact on the league, the fans, the sponsors and ultimately our society.
My understanding is that kneeling during the national anthem is a symbolic protest by athletes who feel that our country does not provide equal protection or opportunity to minorities. I agree 100% with that statement … it’s a painful truth for our country. I also believe that although great strides have been made in the area of equality, more work remains to be done.
Here’s where I disagree. You correct these issues with action, not divisive symbolism.
My issue with professional athletes protesting in this manner stems from my belief that sports need to be void of the divisiveness and drama of politics. Sports are inherently tribal; a platform for commonality that often times serves as the very foundation of understanding among people with nothing else in common. The NFL or any other league should never allow itself to be a catalyst for divisiveness, especially in regards to reverence for our country. It pulls people further apart, not closer together.
My other concern is that the league’s response will be symbolic as well. Look for special ribbons or colored pom poms for the cheerleaders for a series of games. Does that change the dynamics of a poorly trained or bad hire police officer using deadly force when they shouldn’t? It doesn’t. It’s the owners responding to symbolism with more symbolism
If a major component of what they negotiate results in the funding of athletic and academic programs that serve underprivileged youth, provides access to positive role models where they are needed and funding community policing projects that make ALL neighborhoods safe, then we will have accomplished something.
For fans, introducing political discourse in the way of symbolic posturing takes away from the escape that sports should provide. A sporting event is a place that allows people an escape from their worries, a respite from concerns both large and small. For 2-3 hours your attention, your passion and your worries are channeled to your team. Fans pay for this experience and subjecting them to divisive political statements on the field of play is wrong.
For sponsors, divisiveness is a no-win proposition. As this issue continues to polarize you’ll see fans exercise their displeasure through disengagement. Ratings for NFL games are down. According to Sporting News, the NFL has seen a 7% decline in viewership from last year and a whopping 18% drop from 2015. You can debate the reasons for this decline but I can assure you that having players disrespect the national anthem does not enhance viewership of NFL games. There is zero doubt in my mind that people have stopped watching, stopped attending and perhaps even started boycotting NFL sponsors because of these protests.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at your social media feeds.
In regards to our society, I feel deeply troubled that we continue on a path of symbolism over substance. I want to be careful here as from what I understand, at least some of the people protesting in this manner are actively vested in helping to create positive change. Supporting causes like the Boys and Girls Club and using your celebrity status to help raise money for underprivileged or underserved communities is what professional athletes can do to help solve this problem. If it were me, I’d take it a step further and use my status to meet with local law enforcement in my community to bridge gaps, enhance communication and build understanding for both sides of this important issue.
If you don’t know where to start to help, start by reaching out to my friend Tim Emory (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Austin Bates (email@example.com). Both these guys volunteer to help kids who may not otherwise get the direction, inspiration or resources they need for success in life.
Taking a knee doesn’t get this done … standing up, doing what’s right and using your status, your time and your money to help others does.