Among the many coronavirus casualties of 2020 has been the world of sports. There was no NCAA basketball March Madness. The NBA season was stopped about two-thirds of the way through. Major League Baseball never made it out of spring training. The one sport that appeared as though it might escape unscathed was football. The Super Bowl was played in February, before COVID-19 systematically began to dismantle life as we know it, and the next NFL season isn’t scheduled to begin until September 10. With no baseball, no basketball playoffs, no Masters (until November) and countless concerts and other forms of entertainment cancelled, it appeared the new NFL season could feed a pent up hunger for joyful, carefree entertainment and potentially skyrocket into the most popular fan numbers in history.
Then NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell decided he needed to speak up on social issues. Apparently plans are already in the works for NFL players, coaches and perhaps even Commissioner Goodell himself to kneel rather than stand during the national anthem. With that in mind, I offer the following open letter to the NFL Commissioner and to all of the NFL.
Dear Commissioner Goodell,
I hope this unusual year of 2020 finds you and your loved ones in good health. I suspect the challenges of running a $15 billion per year business are great enough without a worldwide pandemic.
As you surely know, NFL football games are the most watched games of any American sport. The Super Bowl is usually the most watched television event in the United States each year. Football is an exciting sport, one that I watch to be entertained and to serve as a distraction from the oft troubling headlines that lead the news in the current era. I watch to see blazing speed and amazing leaps. I watch to see mammoth men try to get past each other in an effort to further their own team’s cause. I watch to see some of planet earth’s finest athletes running, passing and catching.
The NFL describes its own mission as “Delivering exciting sports and entertainment. At the core, NFL is all about making American football great. The organization sees itself as the custodian of the culture and best practices to protect and advance this game into the future, and it does this without cutting back on the entertainment that characterizes it.” When you stick to football, Commissioner, you’re pretty good at accomplishing your mission.
Allow me to let you in on a little secret, though. I don’t watch sporting events to learn about politics or someone’s definition of social justice. If I wake up on Sunday morning with a hankering for more information on the news of the day I’ll check out “Face the Nation” or “Fox News Sunday.”
It came to light this week that you, as Commissioner, are encouraging NFL players and NFL team personnel to kneel rather than stand during the playing of the national anthem prior to each 2020 football game. In your recent ESPN interview it seemed that you were planning to literally join them in refusing to stand for the United States flag.
The flag stands for American ideals. The concept of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness isn’t one a lot of people debate. The idea that all of us are created equal doesn’t get a great deal of argument. As a nation of human beings, America falls short of those ideals sometimes. The flag, however, does not celebrate the failures nor the shortcomings. It represents those ideals we continue to strive for.
More than 1.2 million men and women have died protecting the ideals of that flag. We stand during the anthem to honor their memory and their sacrifice. Kneeling disregards those lives and disrespects their memory.
We also stand during the anthem to focus on what unites us. We are all Americans. In 1796 George Washington said “The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.” Commissioner, I can boil that down a little simpler for you. United we stand, divided we fall.
A healthy exercise for any of us to do prior to taking action is to ask ourselves, will this action be unifying or will this action be divisive? Prior to kicking off your 2020 NFL season by disrespecting the American flag and all it stands for, I’d advise you ask yourself that very question. To get a definitive answer the NFL need only look in its own rearview mirror.
Commissioner Goodell, in a 2017 memo to NFL team owners you wrote “The current dispute over the national anthem is threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country.” Those are your words, and you were absolutely right.
In 2010 the NFL averaged 17.9 million television viewers. Similar numbers followed virtually every season. In 2015 you finished the year again at the 17.9 million mark. Then 2016 happened. Colin Kaepernick remained sitting on the bench for the National Anthem prior to a preseason game and things began to fall apart. We could debate the merits of Kaepernick’s reasoning for disrespecting the flag, but what is not debatable is the impact the issue had on the NFL.
Watching young men who get paid tens of millions of dollars to play a game gripe about being oppressed turned millions of fans and their televisions off. By 2017 the NFL viewing numbers had dropped dramatically from 17.9 million to 14.9 million. Ticket sales to the games suffered as well. According to Sports Business Daily, the NFL’s average number of attendees at home games in 2019 was the lowest since 2004.
Why are you losing television viewers? Why are you losing fans? Why are fewer people coming to the stadiums on Sunday? Because the act of disrespecting the American flag and the men and women that died for it divides people. You said so yourself.
Here is the irony. Since 1976 I have been a long-suffering Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan. Over the past several seasons the appalling incompetence of the Bucs organization combined with the utterly disrespectful actions of so many players and announcers in the NFL had me ready to quit. A couple of years ago I cancelled my NFL Sunday Ticket package and only occasionally watched a game. My standing Sunday appointment watching the Buccaneers was no more. With this year’s off-season addition of Tom Brady I was being drawn back. The NFL had my interest again, that is, until you decided promoting social causes is your purpose.
It’s not. Entertain me. Distract me. But stop dividing people. My interest in your league is now hanging by a thread.
If you really believe the NFL’s mission is all about making American football great, focus on uniting. If the league feels it absolutely must make a statement about social issues, do so without being disrespectful to the nation that makes your Commissioner’s salary of nearly $1 million dollars per week possible. If the goal is unity, bring all players onto the field before the game to kneel for a moment of silence and reflection. That is a message of unity. Follow that action by all players standing for the National Anthem and it will further unify. It will unify the message, unify the league and unify a country.
A nice little side benefit will be the NFL’s role as leaders in bringing a country together. It will gain you respect. It will also gain the league viewers, paid attendance and revenue.
One final note: If the NFL honestly sees itself as the custodian of the culture and best practices to protect and advance this game into the future, stop making ridiculous and pandering comments like you did this past week on ESPN. Talking about Colin Kaepernick you said, “If his efforts are not on the field but continuing to work in this space, we welcome him to that table and to help us, guide us, help us make better decisions about the kinds of things that need to be done in the communities.”
Seeking the advice and guidance of a guy who donated money to honor a convicted cop killer, who wore socks depicting police officers as pigs and who praised Cuba’s vicious dictator Fidel Castro is like asking the builders of the Titanic for advice about your boat. Mr. Kaepernick does not speak for the average American nor for the typical NFL fan.
Commissioner, get out of politics. We have 100 Senators and 435 Representatives that collectively manage to divide the nation on a daily basis. Go back to your core strength of delivering exciting sports and entertainment. The NFL will gain popularity and increase revenue and maybe fans like me will be able to stomach a Sunday broadcast again.
The Washington Times
Likely to watch a lot more NCAA Football this year.