- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2017

It turns out those blaming Colin Kaepernick for last season’s decline in NFL viewership have a point: A study has found that the national anthem protests were the main reason disenchanted sports fans tuned out.

The J.D. Power Fan Experience Survey, which polled 9,200 sports buffs, showed that of those who watched less coverage, 26 percent cited players who took a knee instead of standing for the anthem, a protest spurred by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Kaepernick.

After the protests, 24 percent named game delays for their drop in interest, while another 24 percent pointed to “off field image problems with domestic violence.”

Those reasons were followed by “excessive commercials and advertising” at 20 percent; coverage of presidential election at 16 percent, and “cord-cutting,” or cancelling TV or cable subscriptions, at 5 percent.

NFL viewership dropped last year by 8 percent from the previous season, which coincided with some players opting to take a knee instead of stand during the pre-game playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a protest against police shootings of black men.

At the same time, the survey made available Thursday found that NFL viewership and attendance actually increased last season among sports fans, identified as those who attended in 2016-17 at least one NBA, NHL or NFL game.

Of those, 27 percent said they watched more NFL coverage last season, while 12 percent said they saw less.

A breakdown by city found that Miami and New York sports buffs were the most troubled by the national-anthem protests: Of those who said they watched less coverage, the protests were cited as the main reason by 38 percent of Miami fans and 37 percent of fans in New York.

The cities least bothered by the protests were Boston, where just 13 percent cited the national-anthem ruckus as the main reason for their flagging interest, and Chicago at 18 percent.

While the national-anthem protests topped the list of reasons for fans who watched less football, SBNation pointed out that they represented just 3 percent of total respondents in the annual survey.

After opting out of his contract in March, Mr. Kaepernick has yet to be signed by another NFL team, much to the chagrin of his fans and others who have accused the league of shunning him for his political beliefs.

Mr. Kaepernick’s political activism didn’t stop with taking a knee during the anthem.

“For a time, he relished breaking norms and inflaming fans,” said National Review’s David French. “He wore socks depicting pigs in police hats. He showed up at a press conference in a Fidel Castro T-shirt. And through it all, sportswriters and commentators cheered him on.”

Last month, Mr. Kaepernick was back in the news for comparing police departments to “runaway slave” patrols.

The Kaepernick debate flared up again Friday when the Baltimore Ravens signed arena league quarterback David Olson to serve as a back-up after starting QB Joe Flacco was sidelined with a back injury.

“Oh and ICYMI, the Ravens signed a dude who quit football to be a realtor and played 2 games in college over a Super Bowl QB,” said ESPN’s Jemele Hill on Twitter.

Mr. Kaepernick, 29, went 1-10 during the 2016-17 NFL season with 16 touchdowns, four interceptions, and a 59.2 completion percentage. ESPN ranked him 23rd of 30 quarterbacks at the end of the season.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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