The world’s most popular sport took some big hits last week. National anthem protests around the NFL drew down the Twitter wrath of Donald Trump, who unleashed a series of venom-filled tweets towards athletes against anthems. Athletes have responded viciously to Trump’s remarks, while many fans have not shown their support of those players. Boos have continuously serenaded stadiums during anthem kneels, while cable networks have offered refunds to NFL season subscribers. Can the NFL shield sustain its popularity amid anthem protests? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate this question.
Riley: The NFL was already dealing with a full deck of PR nightmares including concussions, drug use and domestic violence. Viewership was already taking a hit and youth participation around the country is down. Adding a racially-charged topic could be a death blow similar to baseball’s 1994 strike, which took years for MLB to recover from. In a league comprised primarily of Black players, it’s going to be impossible for White America to sympathize with a division of athletes upset with how one-sided race is in the U.S.
Green: Racism in sports isn’t new, especially to the NFL, but today’s Information Age and social media platforms have changed life as we know it for everyone. The league could never do away with protesting without backlash from social media, the new driving force of mass communication. Instead, I can see the league eventually coming up with some gimmick way to make money off of player protests. Similar to the way they’ve made money off of Breast Cancer Awareness or Military Pride. It’s all about the money to them cats.
Riley: In order for anything to sustain, it must be able to produce and reproduce. The NFL is the center of so much controversy that it’s quite possible that parents nationwide will potentially steer their sons away from playing football. Concussion scares had already shifted the mindset of many parents, and sprinkling in some anthem protests into the homes of ex-military, former firefighters and police officers could sever all support for the gridiron. The lifeblood of football originates from youth football and if participation was already down, it probably won’t rise after this.
Green: Youth participation might be down in America but other countries are producing NFL players nowadays. The NCAA is the ultimate football factory, not Pop Warner. There might be fewer amateur athletes playing, but that’s probably a good thing. The truly talented phenoms will continue to play, and the players who never really loved the game or had lower chances of advancing will simply bow out. Football is a passionate sport. The extra antics and media headlines won’t affect the determination of those who have true love for the sport. And as long as the job is still paying millions, there are going to be people willing to play simply for the money.