NFL Player Protests, President Trump Battle With League, Voted Top Sports Story of 2017
By Alan Zlotorzynski, Assistant Editor // December 31, 2017
Love of Country more powerful than mighty NFL
ABOVE VIDEO: President Donald Trumps comments in September about players protesting the flag and NFL owners sparked outrage and support. (CNN video)
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA — Sports and politics collided in 2017 and the impact defined the year in sports and reminded us that, like church and state, the two should stay separate.
There is little doubt the National Football League player protests and President Donald Trump’s ongoing feud with the once untouchable NFL is the top sports story of 2017.
In fact, in a poll of AP Sportswriters from around the country, the NFL player protest won by a three to one margin over college basketball’s FBI investigation and arrests.
The top story of 2017 in sports began in August of 2016 when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench while the national anthem played during a preseason game.
Kaepernick said he sat to “stand with the people that are being oppressed.” Kaepernick was referring to what he felt was the oppression of people of color in the United States and ongoing issues with police brutality.
ABOVE VIDEO: Speaking defiantly to his critics in August of 2016, Colin Kaepernick explains why he sat during the national anthem. (KCIS CBS San Francisco video)
The issue would stay at the forefront on Sundays. Each week cameras looked for players kneeling or sitting during the anthem but the issue really exploded during the first month of this season when President Donald Trump weighed in during a speech in late September.
Speaking to a crowd in Alabama, President Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired, he’s fired.”
Criticism poured in from players and owners, but many fans sided with Trump’s comments, as social media filled with fans talking about boycotting the league that had become “America’s unofficial new past time.”
The Sunday following the President’s remarks, more than 200 NFL players protested during the National Anthem.
Three NFL teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, took it a step further and stayed in the locker room or tunnel area during the anthem. One player, Alejandro Villanueva, the Steelers left offensive tackle came out a little further than he thought and stood with his hand over his heart as the Star Bangled Banner played.
However, the former Army Ranger would come out later in the week and apologize publicly for doing so saying several times that it was his fault that the team looked divided during the anthem.
This story has mesmerized the country. From sea to shining sea the protests trickled down to college where the Kennesaw State University’ cheerleaders protested in the stadium tunnel, to high school and even in youth sports, where football players as young as 8-years old took a knee.
Whether you agree or disagree, the protests have impacted people who never thought their opinions would matter on the topic. The most recent twist involves former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning’s favorite pizza man, Papa John himself. The company’s founder John Schnatter criticized NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for not enforcing the rules for the players to stand.
Papa John’s was the top pizza chain in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), with a score of 82 out of 100 in 2016 and considered one of the league’s biggest sponsors and advertisers. Schnatter blamed the protests as one of the reasons the company is experiencing slow sales growth and dipping stocks.
Papa John’s apologized for his comments after praise from white supremacists and Schnatter is stepping down as CEO in 2018.
The impact on the league is ongoing and the player protests have hurt the league financially. Television ratings are down significantly and the league has reportedly lost a half billion dollars.
According to TV By the Numbers, four of the five most-watched TV shows in 2017 in the 18-49 age demographic were NFL games. Of the top 20 most-watched TV shows, the NFL had 10 of them.
Regardless of what side you fall on, the one thing that everyone can agree on is that these protests have taken away those boyish or childlike feelings we always used to get before kickoff.
Watching a football game on Sundays this season has a completely different feel to it, if you’re watching at all. For years, players and owners have told the great fans that support the league that the NFL is a business first.
Fans ignored those sentiments through work stoppages by players and referees, franchise relocations, player free agency and ridiculous salaries and ticket prices. Fans even forgave the league for the way it has mishandled disgusting off the field issues such as domestic violence and flat out lying to its own players, much less the fans about the effects of concussions and hits to the head.
However, it seems the one thing that pushed the fans over the top and struck a nerve in their hearts is the love of country.
Every NFL game has a point spread and odds placed on which team will win. After weathering so many potential storms, it’s a good bet to assume the NFL never saw this coming. Just two weeks after the President’s comments and 200 plus player protests, the league’s front office seemed to back away a bit from its support of those wanting to kneel.
ABOVE VIDEO: NFL fans burn their favorite team’s jersey in anger for player anthem protests. (Rogue Pundit video)
After Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones issued a stand for the anthem or be benched decree, Goodell sent a letter to the NFL’s 32 owners. “Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem,” said Goodell.
The commissioner acknowledged that the league was aware of and cared about the issues at the heart of the protests but he also said, “the controversy over the anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues.”
Goodell’s flip-flopping didn’t sit well with the players as there seems to be no end in site to the top sports story of 2017. One tweet, one comment, one end zone dance could easily add more fuel to what already feels like a five-alarm fire. Stay tuned in 2018.
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