The NFL at a Difficult Crossroads: Protests, Ratings Drops and Goodell

From sagging television ratings to player conduct issues and the ongoing hubbub over the National Anthem protests, The NFL landscape seems to be changing before our very eyes. Put simply, the league seems to be a major crossroads, one that may go a long way toward determining its social and economic fate for the next decade and beyond. Let’s have a look at a few of the major issues that the NFL is currently facing.

The Anthem Protests and Other Player Issues

What better place to center our snapshot of the NFL than on the controversy that continues to surround the players’ pregame National Anthem protests. As just about everyone knows, the story began last year, when former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the anthem to protest the police shootings of unarmed African-American men. Several players followed suit after that, with the practice continuing into the current season and generating what amounted to a middling controversy.

Then came President Donald Trump’s Twitter proclamation that the players were actually disrespecting the United States military and should be fired for refusing to stand during the National Anthem. We all know what happened a few days later — nearly every team had a large contingent of players kneel or lock arms during the anthem in a show of solidarity against the president’s interference. Since then, the protests have been both a lightning rod for player criticism and a referendum on social issues in our country.

Unfortunately, this is part of a larger tapestry of player issues surrounding the league. From the discourse on concussions and player safety to an endless parade of domestic abuse and OWI arrests, the NFL has been plagued by a wave of moral controversy that could one day rattle its very foundations. It’s not entirely clear how the NFL plans to navigate these choppy waters, but what it does (and fails to do) will surely have a huge impact on its future.

Dropping Television Ratings

The NFL’s television ratings have been a big story for the past couple of years and continue to be one today. As recently as the 2015 season, the NFL seemed to set ratings records on an almost weekly basis, but they’ve dropped substantially since then and everyone wants to know why.

The most vocal opponents of the anthem protests are quick to point to them as the chief reason for the decline in ratings, but this perspective fails to take many other important factors into account and seems to be very shortsighted. For one thing, the decline in ratings began last season, long before the controversy over the national anthem protests.

Secondly, there is also a connection between overall TV viewing habits and the NFL’s lower ratings. Take the following statistics, for instance. Over the first seven weeks of this season, the NFL has seen an alarming 5% drop in ratings compared to the same period last year. Yes, this is a significant drop, but much less so when you consider that primetime ratings of the four major networks have dropped 8% over the same time period.

Cooler heads seem to think that the NFL’s ratings will bounce back to one extent or another, but team owners might very well be forced into accepting a new and unpleasant normal.

The Future of Commissioner of Roger Goodell