Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) scores a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The NFL Has a Real Problem

Steve mentioned this earlier. New data out shows a third of NFL fans are boycotting game watching because of the politics of Kaepernick.

Nearly one-third (32 percent) of adults say they’re less likely to watch NFL game telecasts because of the Kaepernick-led player protests against racial injustice, according to Rasmussen’s telephone/online survey of 1,000 American adults conducted Oct. 2-3.

Only 13 percent said they were more likely to watch an NFL game because of continuing protests by Kaepernick and supporters such as Antonio Cromartie of the Colts (who was cut only two days after raising a fist during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in London on Sunday).

Eyeballs impact ratings, which in turn impact advertising revenue for the NFL. As the system gets more political, more fans tune out. The interesting thing about this, however, is not really Kaepernick’s protest. It is the media coverage of Kaepernick’s protest.

If a player refuses to stand for the national anthem, very few people are going to notice except for the wall to wall coverage it gets. The NFL has created a soap opera style narrative that encourages this sort of coverage. We get HBO specials on training camps. We can wall to wall draft coverage. We get profile pieces on ESPN. We get think pieces in SI. All of this is done, in part, because of behind the scenes orchestration at the NFL. At this point, the NFL knows exactly how the system is going to respond and can just sit back. The League has created a sports media culture that now overly dramatizes and politicizes coverage without prompting.

Jonah Goldberg, at National Review, reminded me of this old EJ Dionne column. Dionne is a liberal and was upset that ESPN had hired Rush Limbaugh as a football commentator. While I personally thought it was awesome and I know Rush’s love of the game, Dionne was upset because being a liberal he though Limbaugh’s mere presence politicized the game.

“The issue here is not that Limbaugh is a conservative,” Dionne wrote. He didn’t care about the personal politics of sports commentators. No, Dionne’s objection was with injecting politics into sports. “Most of us who love sports want to forget about politics when we watch games,” he wrote. “Sports, like so many other voluntary activities, creates connections across political lines.” And then he added: “Politicizing everything from literature to music to painting and sports was once a habit of the left. The Communist Party’s now-defunct newspaper once had a sports column called ‘Out in Left Field.’ Now, it’s the turn of the right to politicize everything.”

I disagree that merely having Rush Limbaugh comment on football politicized it. In fact, if you ever listened to Rush, you’d appreciate his absolute transcendent love of the game. But it is inarguable that these protests are politicizing the game. The coverage of the protests in the sports media politicizes it all further.

This is all a product of a culture developed and encouraged in house by the NFL to drum up interest in the game beyond the field. If the NFL wants to get the fans back, the League is going to have to bring pressure on the media to focus on the game, not the action on the sidelines.

Considering viewership is down, the media has a vested interest in agreeing. In the alternative, bring back Rush Limbaugh.

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Erick Erickson

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