Should NFL protesters take a knee?

Published 5:47 pm Tuesday, December 27, 2016



Critics of Colin Kaepernick called for a boycott of the NFL over their decision not to punish the San Francisco 49ers quarterback. But while the professional football boycott initially showed some promise, it was undone, partially by Donald Trump, of all people.


Kaepernick made headlines by taking a knee during the National Anthem, a means of protesting the many police shootings of African-American males. As much as I don’t support shooting African American males, I’m also a fan of the National Anthem (I teach an education class on history where I cover the story behind the event, as well as a class on the War of 1812). I got angry emails from both sides, criticizing me for not supporting the boycott, and for supporting the National Anthem.


Supporters of the NFL boycott claimed their efforts succeeded. They claimed ratings were down, and that the Rasmussen Reports polls showed fewer people were watching the game.


I checked out attendance numbers for the NFL, and found that more people were attending games in 2016, over 2015 numbers. I also found experts who insisted that people were streaming games, which wasn’t included in ratings numbers. But critics still emailed me, claiming the ratings slide couldn’t be ignored. So I looked at those numbers as well, using data from Sports Media Watch. And this is what I found.


NFL boycott supporters were right…for the first few weeks. NFL numbers were down over the same games at the same time from 2015 from weeks 1 through 7. Whether this is because of the boycott, or due to a contentious election, an exciting World Series, it remains unclear. But some of the lowest rated games conflicted with these other events, so both could be right.


It was a different story in week 8 and thereafter. From weeks 8 through 14, games with TV ratings higher than 2015 were greater than those games where 2015 ratings exceeded 2016 numbers. And I’m not the only one to make this conclusion. Business Insider, with Yahoo News, also found that the NFL ratings slide was over.


I’m sure critics will say that the numbers only rebounded because the playoff races are beginning. But we’re comparing apples to apples, or playoff races of 2016 to those of 2015.


Additionally, Sports Media Watch data (from the networks) also incorporates estimates of those between 18 and 49 who are streaming the pro football games.  I even tried it myself for a game.   The technology is crude, but generally effective. If you take those numbers into account, the NFL is doing even better in 2016 than in 2015.


Another reason why the NFL boycott lost steam was Donald Trump himself. In the closing weeks of the campaign, he ran ads nonstop on television, during NFL games. Clearly, Trump felt it was more important to win the election and reach all those fans also ignoring the boycott, rather than oppose Kaepernick.


If I’ve learned anything about professional football, it’s that the game appeals to conservatives, moderates and liberals. That’s likely to continue for quite some time, and won’t be altered by a QB who plays for one of the worst teams in the league, who barely gets on TV in the first place. Now let’s get back to some football watching, as we could experience one of the best NFL postseasons in history.


John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.  He can be reached at