The NFL is starting to realize its war on the White House was not its best idea.
NFL owners are reportedly set to meet next week to discuss a possible league-wide rule change to require players and coaches to stand for the national anthem prior to games. If such a rule is passed, it will make the NFL the second of the four major sports leagues in the United States to mandate standing for the national anthem. The National Basketball League already has the rule in place.
Shortly after the news of the planned meeting broke, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent out a statement to owners across the league, urging its teams to stand for the anthem.
“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem,” Goodell wrote. “It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us. We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”
Goodell’s letter shows a sharp change in tone from when he condemned the president’s stance on kneeling athletes just three weeks ago. Back then, the commissioner said in a public statement that the president’s comments criticizing players who refuse to stand for the anthem were “divisive.”
The meeting and memo appear to be a direct response to President Donald Trump’s tweet on Tuesday morning threatening to end the league’s tax breaks as players continue to kneel for the anthem. Although the league lost its tax-exempt status back in 2015, over the past two decades it has received nearly $7 billion in taxpayer funds to build and renovate stadiums. And from 2011 to 2014, 14 teams across the league received a combined $5.4 million to honor veterans prior to their games, according to NJ.com.
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With such a swift reaction to the president’s words, the NFL appears adamant about keeping tax dollars flowing in and its crony-capitalist scheme alive. To the organization, the principle of its protest might not be worth losing out on future revenue while its favorability rating plummets — even if it were condemning the president just a few weeks ago.
The NFL’s favorability rating dropped from 57 percent to 44 percent from late August to late September, according to the Winston Group.
In the wake of anthem protests dating back to 2016, the NFL has also seen a decline in TV ratings. The ratings declined eight percent in 2016, according to ESPN, and 11 percent over the first three weeks of this season, according to CBS News.
These rating declines and the potential for lost revenue may lead to all teams standing for the anthem — but so far, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross are the only two owners requiring their teams to stand.
While both men have experienced some backlash, ESPN’s Jemele Hill was particularly vocal about Jones’ decision this week. She called for a boycott of the Cowboys’ sponsors and was promptly suspended for two weeks by ESPN for violating its social media policy, since ESPN and the Cowboys have common sponsors, and the network airs Monday Night Football broadcasts. Previously, Hill called President Trump a “white supremacist” on Twitter and yet was not disciplined by her employer, though she did apologize afterward.
In this tense political climate in which the Left and the Right are so strongly divided, the NFL is close to handing Trump and his supporters a win. Many NFL players will likely be disappointed if the league mandates standing for the anthem — but owners will be relieved if it helps them continue using taxpayer money to their own benefit.
In another cultural victory for the president, the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team visited the White House on Tuesday. This came after the Golden State Warriors basketball team was disinvited to meet President Trump when two players and the coach said they had no interest in going.
“You are true champions and incredible patriots,” Trump told the Penguins players at the White House in front of press. The visit was to celebrate the Stanley Cup victory for the team.