- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 8, 2017

The last thing the NFL needed as it struggles with declining ratings, falling ticket prices and fan outrage was a major take-a-knee dust-up Sunday involving Vice President Mike Pence, but that’s what the league got.

Mr. Pence walked out of the Indianapolis Colts game after 23 players for the visiting San Francisco 49ers knelt in protest on the sideline during the national anthem at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The vice president later came under fire from 49ers safety Eric Reid, who called the early exit a “PR stunt” and example of “systemic oppression.”

“He knew our team has had the most players protest,” Mr. Reid told reporters. “He knew we were probably going to do it again. And so this is what systemic oppression looks like—a man with power comes to the game, tweets a couple things out and leaves the game with an attempt to thwart our efforts.”

The episode, which blew up on what should have been a feel-good day for the NFL with the retirement of former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning’s #18 jersey, virtually guaranteed that the protests will continue to dominate the narrative for at least another week—and inflame fans already voting with their feet.

An analysis released Friday by CNBC found that ticket prices during the first three games of the 2017 season enjoyed a 20-40 percent increase over last year, but then went up by just 5 percent in Week 4 and actually dropped by 2 percent in Week 5.

SEE ALSO: NFL players’ union teamed up with Soros to fund leftist advocacy groups

“After the president’s comments and NFL player reactions, Week 4 saw only a 5 percent increase, and now we’re seeing an outright decline. So that’s a bad direction,” said CNBC’s Eric Chemi, who used data from Ticket IQ.

Figures from Nielsen Media Research showed that viewership has declined in the first four weeks of the season by 7 percent from the 2016 season across every adult age demographic, according to the sports website Awful Announcing.

“It seems like everyone is mad at the NFL, whether you are young and old, male or female, and just about any ethnic identity you could think of,” said Awful Announcing’s Jason Clinkscales.

During Week 4, which ran Oct. 1-2, Nielsen found nationally televised NFL games averaged 14.2 million viewers, a decrease from the 14.8 million viewers the week before, the Associated Press reported.

A Seton Hall University poll released Sept. 29 found that 29 percent of fans said they were watching fewer games this season, and of those, 47 percent blamed the take-a-knee protests.

There have been bright spots — the Thursday night contest between the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers saw a 26 percent increase over last year’s Week 5 game — but the overall decline comes as a hit for a league still trying to recover from last year’s drop in viewers.

SEE ALSO: Trump ‘proud’ of Pence for walking out of NFL game

The NFL’s viewership fell during regular 2016 season by 9 percent and during the post-season by 6 percent, a decline attributed to factors such as the presidential campaign, preseason competition from the Summer Olympics, and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension to start the season.

Factors cited for this year’s decline include the weather—Hurricane Irma forced the postponement of the first game of the season in Miami—and underperforming teams.

What hasn’t changed are the refusals by some players to stand for the national anthem before games in a protest against racism and social injustice.

About 200 players sat or took a knee in Week 3 after President Trump said in a Sept. 22 speech that the team owners should fire any “son of a bitch” who refuses to stand for the flag.

That number plummeted to about 50 players in Week 4. On Sunday, the number declined even further as only a handful took a knee or sat during the national anthem—with the major exception of the San Francisco 49ers.

After the 23 players from the San Francisco team took a knee, Mr. Pence said on Twitter that, “@POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.”

“At a time when so many Americans are inspiring our nation with their courage, resolve, and resilience, now more than ever, we should rally around our Flag and everything that unites us,” Mr. Pence said in a statement. “While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I don’t think it’s too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our National Anthem.”

Mr. Pence added, “I stand with President Trump, I stand with our soldiers, and I will always stand for our Flag and our National Anthem.”

Mr. Trump commended him, saying in a tweet that, “I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen.”

No Indianapolis Colts players took a knee Sunday during the national anthem, according to the Indianapolis Star.

The San Francisco 49ers are the former team of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who led the take-a-knee protests during the 2016 season in what he described as a statement against racism and social injustice.

Now unsigned, Mr. Kaepernick landed in another brouhaha Sunday when CBS Sports reported that he would stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” if he were hired by an NFL team, which Mr. Kaepernick’s girlfriend Nessa Diab denied.

“The reports that Colin will stand for the anthem are completely false! He has never discussed this with anyone!” said Ms. Diab in a Sunday tweet.

Mr. Kaepernick followed up with a tweet paraphrasing a famous quote: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

CBS Sports reporter Jason La Canfora said initially on the air Sunday that Mr. Kaepernick is “not planning on kneeling, he’s going to donate all his jersey sales, and he’s planning on standing for the anthem if given the opportunity,” but later walked back his comment.

“I know @Kaepernick7 is fully committed to playing football and helping those in need. What he would do during the Anthem I do not know,” said Mr. La Canfora on Twitter.

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

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