Editor’s Note: Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has worked as a producer, reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jones is co-author of “Say it Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete.” She talks politics, sports and culture weekly on Philadelphia’s 900AM-WURD. The views expressed here are solely hers.
Roxanne Jones: When NFL players, coaches and owners united in dissent against Trump this weekend, freedom won -- at least for the moment
But remember, the NFL is acting in its own business interests by supporting its players now, writes Jones
Freedom won when hundreds of NFL players, coaches and owners united in dissent over President Donald Trump’s efforts to deny players the right to protest the deadly police violence and racism that they see in America.
Donald Trump? Well, he lost.
And I found a reason to feel good about watching football again.
Admittedly, my joy may be a fleeting, but still it was satisfying to see the NFL and its 32 team owners finally realize how dangerous it is when we have a President who insists on using his position to attack any business or private citizen who disagrees with his politics.
President Trump is calling for a fan boycott of the NFL if teams don’t fire players who silently kneel in protest during the national anthem. And that threat certainly got the attention of team owners, who up until now have shown little to no public support for player protests. Former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the anthem protests last season, remains ostracized, unable to get a job in the league. He continues to be passed over for quarterbacks with less talent and fewer wins.
But now Trump is messing with the league’s money, and that really has the NFL riled.
“I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President,” Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, said in a team statement. “I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. … I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”
And clearly this is not a fight about the flag or standing for the anthem. Players standing for the national anthem was instituted as a symbol of American pride at NFL games in 2009. It was part of an $6.8 million advertising deal paid for by tax dollars from the Department of Defense to promote patriotism.
As part of the deal, teams mandated that athletes stand on the field for the anthem, hand over heart. Prior to 2009, each team could determine if it wanted to sing the national anthem, “God Bless America” or any song at all. However, the players were not required to be on the field for any opening song.
According to valuations released by Forbes.com, the NFL’s 32 teams combined are worth $74.8 billion. The average value per team is $2.3 billion. And television rights alone are worth $7 billion. That’s the amount networks such as ESPN/ABC, Fox, NBC, CBS, DirectTV, NFL Network pay to air NFL broadcasts.
Despite all the talk about NFL TV ratings drops, which are down slightly, advertising revenue is at an all-time high, earning $3.5 billion, an increase of 3% from two years ago – according to research firm Standard Media Index.
In other words, professional football is big business. The New York-based NFL office itself employs thousands of people, and thousands more are employed by individual teams and the outside vendors and contractors who make money off the business of professional football.
And that, more than anything else explains why team owners and coaches had no choice but to join players in challenging Trump’s attacks and calls for a boycott of the game. When the US President calls for fans to stop consuming your products, that is a direct threat to your bottom line.
The idea that some of Trump’s base just may listen could make image-conscious advertisers and TV networks very nervous, especially in a time when changing viewing habits and pricey cable sports packages are already shrinking TV audiences.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love my country. And I come from a family of proud Americans who fought, died and worked hard every day – even when they weren’t paid – for this nation. Every day, I find authentic acts of patriotism and love of country – at school, work and in our communities, but military-sponsored patriotism should never be mandatory. That is what we see in places like Cuba and China.
It’s likely a few NFL owners are feeling a bit betrayed by the attack they never saw coming from the White House. But that’s the thing, this behavior is becoming the norm for our President.
Last week, it was Jemele Hill, the ESPN Sports Center anchor, the White House wanted fired for tweeting Trump was a white supremacist. Before that, Muslims and immigrants were America’s biggest threats. And, of course, the media remains an enemy of the people in Trump’s eyes. Fear and mistrust are common themes coming from our government today.
Trump is still ranting against the NFL. But now what? Fire every coach, owner and player who stood and linked arms, kneeled or refused to show up on the field for the national anthem? Fire entire teams – Pittsburgh, Seattle and Tennessee – that refused to take the field at all for the anthem?
This is not reality TV. You don’t get to flap your arms around and shout “you’re fired.” It’s a joke and embarrassing. Do better.
The NFL can also do better. Revenue may be up for now but America – and your potential customers – are getting browner every day. In less than 40 years, non-Latino whites, who are now about 61.3% of the population, will no longer be the majority race, according to the recent Pew Research Center and US Census numbers.
Instead of rejecting players like Kaepernick and others who speak out on social justice issues, now is the time to find ways to connect with your evolving fan base. That’s not politics, or a threat, that’s just good business.
We all need a reason to feel good about football again.