In 2016 when the politicization of sports had surged, with NFL players took the mantle of Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the American flag (his words, not mine) by kneeling during the national anthem, the league’s ratings tanked. Two things I remember from that era:
- The gnashing of left-wing sports writers’ teeth. One of my favorite moments was when Gregg Doyel, Stephen Holder, and others whined about Vice President Mike Pence’s “political theater” when he walked out of a Colts game after players kneeled. This after Doyel, Holder, and those others had, for weeks, been applauding the political theater of the kneeling itself for weeks.
- All of the secondary explanations that were cited as the “real reason” the ratings were going down. It wasn’t because of the political lecturing, it was because cable was being unbundled, it was because entertainment options were exploding like never before, it was because of climate change or Donald Trump’s tax returns. Anything except for the reality that the league’s biggest fans were turned off by shelling out exorbitant amounts of money to help pay the absurd salaries of those that were wanted to lecture them how they were racists.
Fast-forward to 2020, another election year, and it’s happening again. Before the Black Lives Matter riots hit the streets this summer, I (along with everyone else with a brain) would have told you that the NFL kickoff game between the Super Bowl champ Chiefs and Houston Texans would have shattered ratings records. Following the ill-advised COVID lockdowns, people were sports-deprived and ready for some football. Last Thursday, the game’s ratings were down a shocking 19% from last year.
It’s not surprising to anyone who has watched the ratings drop in the country’s wokest league, the NBA. Commentator Will Cain tried to draw attention to that reality, tweeting out how the privileged athlete class was committing industry suicide.
Others will continue to run interference and come up with alternative theories, but they’re silly. We all know what this is about. Lecturing your audience about how racist they are, when they aren’t actually racist at all, isn’t the way to build your brand. But these athletes have been so privileged for so long, so incredibly immune to the realities of life that the rest of us deal with regularly, that they arrogantly believe that they are entitled to send those offensive messages and suffer no consequences.
Cain gave voice to that point too, writing that “requiring your audience to agree with your protests, agree with your characterization of the country, and agree with your radical politics” isn’t going to end well. And that’s what so many of the sports writers who support the nonsense don’t grasp either. They champion these athletes “using their voice to make a statement,” but don’t comprehend that citizens that are on the receiving end of their privileged condescension get to use their voices to make a statement as well.
The only thing that remains to be seen is how convicted these athletes actually are about their “cause.” Consider the NBA. After the Jacob Blake incident, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to not show up to their playoff game. Then LeBron James and other players joined in the boycott, telling everyone that they were considering not finishing the season because they were so distraught over the “need for change.” But when team owners explained to these players that they wouldn’t be getting their paychecks if they quit, suddenly their consciences about racial injustice were soothed and they found the strength to play again.
I guess I tend to expect the same from the NFL. If the lectures, the commercials and pregame antics, the grandstanding, the condescension, the phoniness, the misrepresentations, and the shaming don’t stop, viewership will disappear. Not because people don’t care about racism, but because they aren’t racist and are tired of being told they are no matter how much they love the sport.
At that point, these players will begin to see their own livelihoods impacted, and just like LeBron and his “wokest league of them all” demonstrated, that’s the cause they believe in the most.
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