There is nothing the National Football League (NFL) would like to do more than put last season behind them, win back their fans, and get things back to the way it used to be. But it appears the rift may be wider and deeper than the league believed.
From the moment certain players began kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police violence, fans took notice. Millions did not react favorably to the site of their team’s players "taking a knee" during what they considered to be a sacred moment of national pride.
Those disaffected fans let the NFL — and companies that bought advertising during the televised games — exactly how they felt about the protests. They stopped buying tickets and gear, they stayed home from games and, in droves, they refused to watch any NFL telecasts.
While the numbers were never released, the NFL did see a ratings drop, and it was clear by the empty seats in many stadiums, that the response to the protests was not in the NFL’s favor. The league tried to find a compromise, then they tried to let the issue play out . . . but it never did, and the fervor never died down.
Now, after more than a month in conclave, the NFL owners have agreed to a new standard. According to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the league will fine teams that allow their players to kneel on the sideline during the anthem. In a concession, players will be permitted to remain in the locker room during the pre-game ceremony.
In a statement, Goodell said, "This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem. . . . Personnel who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the locker room until after the anthem has been performed . . . It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case."
The question everyone is asking though, is, will that be enough?
So far, the announcement has been met with tepid responses. Some worry that this will create different issues, while not really solving anything. Many fans still feel resentment that the issue was allowed to go on as long as it did. Others feel like the league should not have caved, and that Goodell and the owners are stifling the rights of players to use their platform to promote issues they care about.
So, at least at this early stage, it looks like the fan base is as divided on this issue as they ever were. What that means for this coming season won’t really be known until we’re a few weeks in.
Ronn Torossian is one of America’s foremost Public Relations executives as founder/CEO of 5WPR, a leading independent public relations Agency. The firm was honored as PR Firm of the Year by The American Business Awards, and has been named to the Inc. 500 List. Torossian is author of the best-selling "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations." For more of Ronn Torossian's reports, Go Here Now.
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