Op-Ed by: Chris Ingram
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. – If you are like me, you do not watch sports for political activism, you watch sports to be entertained. Sports have a unifying effect that usually brings people together. But when politics enter the arena, the focus on the game gets controversial and many Americans say they have had enough.
For the same reason ratings have been down for Hollywood awards shows such as the Academy Awards, sports viewership is down because of all the politicking going on the courts, and fields of professional teams – particularly the hyper-politicized NBA and NFL.
Viewers are having nothing of it. Despite a Coronavirus causing a dearth of fresh, live sports, two of America’s top sports leagues are struggling to hold onto viewers in the face of player politics being injected into the games.
According to Sports Media Watch, which tracks sports television ratings, the NBA saw its national ratings decline four percent from its pre-pandemic average through the league’s first week of returning to action.
Meanwhile, Thursday’s NFL opener on NBC was down thirteen percent from the 2019 seasons first game.
The cause of all the ratings drops seems obvious to all but the team owners.
From embracing Black Lives Matter – a left-wing political organization cloaked as an “end racism” movement, to allowing players to kneel during the National Anthem (or protesting it by staying in the locker room), to permitting players to plaster the name of an accused sex offender armed with a knife who was shot by the police on their helmets, and playing a so-called “Black National Anthem” (which only serves to further divide us), professional sports look more like social advocacy organizations than multi-billion dollar entertainment companies.
For the NFL’s part, owners have struggled with how to deal with on-field player protests for several years. Their lack of control of player expression, while they are on the field (and hence, on the job) a few years ago, has led to the current state of revenue reducing on-field antics. Had the NFL owners applied their right to demand players stop this nonsense – or be fired – years ago, the current mess would not exist.
But owners failed themselves by allowing players to kneel during the National Anthem, and when they did, they sent a message to the player-protesters that they – not the owners – are in charge.
Fast forward to 2020, when in the face of the tragic killing of George Floyd, and the ensuing protests and riots in the name of social justice, the NFL’s previous abdication of its authority made restricting on-field player political expressions this year next to impossible.
But I do not feel sorry for the NFL owners. They did this to themselves.
For my part, none of this matters. I stopped watching the NFL a few years ago in the face of the Colin Kaepernick protests; I had been a life-long fan of the Miami Dolphins. Not watching Sunday games was hard at first, as I enjoyed the game. But I quickly learned what I thought I was missing, was a tremendous waste of time – ten or more hours watching NFL games on Sunday, Monday, or Thursday.
Since giving up the game, I have used my previously wasted time to enjoy life and be entertained in better ways. Instead of being a Sunday afternoon football couch potato, I spend more time with my kids, get more done around the house in the yard, read more, and explore more of the great outdoor offerings of the Tampa Bay region.
Initially, I thought that one day, when the league demands players keep their politics off the field, I may return to watching the game, but I doubt it. In the meantime, I am enjoying my NFL-free time, and when I want politics I know where to find it – by reading the news, tuning into talk radio, or engaging in conversations with friends. I never look for politics in places where I seek to be entertained.
Join me in ditching the NFL and find a better way to spend your Sunday. And when you want politics, turn on Fox News or CNN.
Chris Ingram is a communication, political, and media consultant in Tampa. Follow him on Twitter at @IrreverentView or send him an e-mail to email@example.com.