National Anthem Protests Lead to Plummeting NFL TV Ratings

Viewers are turning off the TV because of players taking a knee. Ratings for NFL games have plummeted this season, and a new poll suggests that controversy over Colin Kaepernick and others who have been refusing to stand for the national anthem is one of the main reasons.

The San Francisco 49ers quarterback, 28, has been kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” all season to show his concern over heightened racial tensions in the U.S. and repeated instances of police violence against black men.

Colin Kaepernick No. 7 and Eric Reid No. 35 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel in protest during the national anthem prior to playing the Los Angeles Rams in their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on Sept. 12, 2016, in Santa Clara, CA. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Yahoo/YouGov surveyed 1,136 Americans who call themselves football fans, and 29 percent said they’re tuning in less this fall than they have in previous years. Out of the fans who claim to be watching fewer games, 40 percent cited Kaepernick’s national anthem protest as their reason.

Some of the other reasons for missing games include lack of opportunity (31 percent), lost interest (28 percent) and the presidential election (17 percent).

If the protests became prominent in other sports, many fans said they would cut back on their viewing of those games too, according to the Yahoo/YouGov survey. Thirty-one percent of NHL fans said they would watch fewer hockey games, 28 percent of baseball fans would turn off the TV and 17 percent of NBA viewers would reduce their viewing.

During last Sunday’s game, Kaepernick was greeted with boos when he took the field in Orchard Park, New York, for his game against the Buffalo Bills. The crowd also chanted “U-S-A!” before the singing of the national anthem. “I don’t understand what’s un-American about fighting for liberty and justice for everybody, for the equality this country says it stands for,” he told reporters after the game. “To me, I see it as very patriotic and American to uphold the United States to the standards that it says it lives by.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell insisted on Tuesday, October 18, that the Kaepernick-led protest has nothing to do with the declining viewership. “We don’t think that’s a factor, and our network partners don’t either,” Goodell said. “We don’t think we’ve lost viewers, and I think when you look at ratings you have to go a little deeper than that. There’s viewers, but also how long they’re engaged for. A lot of times, people will leave a game for whatever reason.” 

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