It’s become a legitimate question now. What’s going to happen during the national anthem at a sporting event, specifically the NFL? The pregame events have often overshadowed the game itself, leaving fans upset and threatening boycotts.
While the NFL and its players have used the Star-Spangled Banner as a platform for their social justice measures, many fans have often voiced their displeasure one way or another. When players have taken a knee or locked arms, instead of the traditional hand-over-heart routine, conversation is usually generated, and it usually doesn’t bode well for the sport. The NFL is about to take a ratings hit with its latest anthem and social justice news.
The NFL is bringing back the Black national anthem for 2021
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the NFL is bringing back the Black national anthem as part of a 10-year, $250 million commitment to fighting racism in America. Before last year’s season opener between the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs, Alicia Keys sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is also known as the Black national anthem.
The NFL put a heavy emphasis on racial equality after the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, despite former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick attempting to do so back in 2016. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted the NFL did a poor job of listening to its players, mainly Kaepernick, during their peaceful protest regarding social injustice.
The Black national anthem will again be played prior to the season opener when the Dallas Cowboys play at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It will also be played at other high-profile events like the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl. The league will also continue promoting social justice with on-field signage, player helmet decals, and in-stadium public service announcements, according to The New York Post.
Expect to see NFL ratings take a dive
From a ratings standpoint, there’s no good that will come from the NFL’s decision to promote the Black national anthem and other social justice messages. The NFL is trying to do the right thing, but any anthem talk is bad news for ratings. Non-football fans won’t tune in because the Black anthem is playing, but many football fans will tune out if they don’t agree with the league’s message.
The NBA went social-justice crazy during last year’s pandemic-interrupted season, and the TV ratings took a pounding. Although the ratings improved a bit this year, they weren’t nearly what they were during the pre-COVID-19 days. According to Sportico, the NBA lost a quarter of its TV audience over the last two years. Forbes said last year’s NBA Finals were down 49%.
While that sharp drop can’t be solely related to racial-equality messages, A September Harris Poll noted that 39% of fans were watching fewer NBA games. Most of those (38%) said the league had become “too political.” The NBA quickly abandoned the social-justice slogans on the backs of jerseys and the messages written on the court.
The NFL needs to learn from the NBA. Sports fans want to watch sports. They want to get away from the drama. Although the league is trying to do the right thing, it’s only going to turn fans away.
Why play the national anthem at all?
Instead of adding another anthem, it might be better to take the other one away. All anthem talk does is divide people. Just ask Drew Brees.
The former New Orleans Saints quarterback was asked his thoughts on players kneeling during the anthem. He saw kneeling as a sign of disrespect. “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” Brees said. Soon after, his teammates and others around the league bailed out on him.
Any opinion on the anthem will lead to some sort of disagreement from someone down the line. It creates more division than unity.
At one point, Mark Cuban temporarily stopped playing the anthem before his Dallas Mavericks home games. “In listening to the community, there were quite a few people who voiced their concerns, really their fears that the national anthem did not fully represent them, that their voices were not being heard,” he said to Rachel Nichols of ESPN.
The NFL is trying to do what it should’ve done five years ago. The pro-Kaepernick group will blast the league for this. The anti-Kaepernicks will tell them to shut up. Generating conversation about a touchy topic can sometimes be effective, but as we’ve seen with anthem talk, it just divides and alienates. Check the ratings in a couple of months.