As Trump Continues to Move NFL Patriotism Goal Post, Football Enthusiasm Takes a Knee

As Trump Continues to Move NFL Patriotism Goal Post, Football Enthusiasm Takes a Knee

While a large number of America’s sport fans are focused on Sunday’s concluding 2018 World Cup match between France and first-time finalist, Croatia, still others wait in anticipation of next week’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

But there is one sport languishing in the corner, at least until the President of the United States feels the need to pull it up and punch it around for the baying, racist wolves who attend his rallies. That neglected game is football – of the American variety – the yarn ball toy of Donald Trump, Feral Cat in-Chief.

Last week at one of his authoritarian parties in Montana, POTUS 45 reminded us all that old adages become repeated truths for good reason. If you give a selfish bully an inch, he will take a mile (or more). The party’s chain, once successfully yanked, shall be perpetually pulled.

So it is with the NFL’s terrible late-May “compromise policy” toward players kneeling during the National Anthem. Come this fall, men are ordered to adjourn to the locker room to spare team owners the unattractive TV visuals of black people engaging in peaceful protest. This rule change was also a thinly disguised Hail Mary pass at appeasing the Human Cheeto.

Suckers! The league’s free speech suppressive capitulation only led Trump to opine (to much rural, white Montana hooting) in typical, erudite style: “Isn’t that worse than not standing? You know? I think that’s worse.”

Writer Charles Pierce, who covers politics for Esquire and competition for Sports Illustrated, has been an astute observer of the genres’ frequent tendency to mix colors. Of the tainted finger paint glop that has become the NFL, Pierce observed in a July 9 SI piece:

“It is plain now that the President of the United States has every intention of using the National Football League and its players as a handy rhetorical punching bag over the next two years. Along with soybeans, sorghum and various important news outlets, the NFL has become another American business the economic health of which the administration has decided is expendable in the pursuit of its political benefit and some cheap applause lines.”

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell and team owners have a real problem on their hands. And it’s not just the Biff Tannen of world leaders. Ticket sales and television ratings were already in free fall before the NFL’s summer edition of Hide ‘n Seek presidential attention. In December of last year, Ticket News took a look at a 30 percent year over year decline in secondary market sales. They certainly didn’t assign blame to Colin Kaepernick for the phenomenon. Instead, writer Katy Gainer pointed to simple economics:

“The average ticket price for an NFL game in the 2015-2016 season was $93 – that’s three times the price of an average MLB ticket the same year. The best performing teams, and the most exciting match-ups, can cost fans hundreds or thousands of dollars for decent seats, often pricing out lower-income fans.”

As for rapidly declining viewership, Recode’s Peter Kafka argues that the league has structural problems aside from the politicization of the sport.

“There is always going to be flux in the NFL — that’s the nature of live sports. The real answer is that the most popular thing on TV is like everything else on TV — it has a harder time attracting eyeballs, because people are doing things instead of watching TV.”

I for one can think of millions of things I’d rather do with my time than watch Vice-President Mike Pence cynically walk out an Indianapolis Colts game to please an audience of one.

The NFL’s 2018 regular season kicks off on Thursday, September 6. That leaves just under two months for team owners and league leaders to decide they’d prefer to stop playing Charlie Brown to Trump’s racial dog whistling Lucy. Over eight weeks to determine that the human rights of players – who are after all, the people enriching the white men involved – deserve more respect than the whims of an opportunistic narcissist. There’s been no evidence suggesting this necessary reflection is taking place, so the NFL will be down at least one more lifelong viewer this fall…

Becky Sarwate

Becky Sarwate

Becky is an award-winning journalist, Op-Ed columnist and blogger. On March 29, 2018 her first book, Cubsessions: Famous Fans of Chicago’s North Side Baseball Team, will be published by Eckhartz Press. She is a proud Chicago resident, where Becky lives with her husband Bob. Check out her collected work at, and follow her on Twitter @BeckySarwate.