NFL Faux Patriotism: Too Little, Too Late

The legitimized violence of the NFL is today’s analogue to the Bread and Circuses of ancient Rome. NFL violence is without question a part of the appeal and, at the same time, sows the seeds of its demise. The frequency of debilitating injury, head trauma, and the constant elimination of first tier players is an insolvable challenge. What happens on an NFL playing field is a crime anywhere else.

The money play for the NFL is fourfold: major broadcast contracts based on consistently high viewership, a rabid fandom showing up for games, casual fans who tune in on Sunday, and branding. The branding is complex and occurs on a variety of levels but every shoe, every jersey, every poster, the pre-game ceremonies, the hard and fast rules about everything from behaviors to uniforms are all a part of the contextual branding of one of the most successful business models in history.

Casual fans that may be rabid about ‘their’ team but may also have watched 2-5 games a week in support of NFL ratings and hence advertising revenues. Just focusing on ratings is a shallow analysis. The focus should be on how many “advertising impressions” are delivered by NFL games. A non-rabid fan that may not own a jersey but watches four or five games a week (or used to) is subjected to hundreds if not a thousand advertising impressions every week times 20 weeks. Behave in a way that reduces the number of fans being subjected to those impressions and you can see why Papa John’s complained about sales being affected. The math accelerates in a geometric progression.

When rabid and casual fans feel they have been insulted those fans received a response from the NFL; “so what?” The NFL entered the protest controversy sure that after a week or two the fans would give up and return to their prior behaviors; this week’s Monday Night Football ratings would argue against that premise.

Instead of looking for another way, another venue to exhibit their discontent, the players, by and large, held their course and the NFL did nothing to assuage the folks who actually pay a significant part of the freight for protesting millionaires.

The newly minted Social Justice Warriors made some tactical errors. When you specifically time your protest to occur as the flag is being presented and the National Anthem rendered there is no way you can later disassociate yourselves from the negativity that that tactic is sure to engender. You can claim that it’s about police brutality but that’s not the image you projected if you had thought it through, it may have occurred to you and motivated you to make your point in a different way with a different sense of timing. You should have known that negative reactions would include patriotic rejection, not so much related to what you were doing but how and when. You may have anticipated that the “anti-Service Member” accusation would be hung around your neck given the past commitment of the NFL to the appearance of patriotism. In some cases patriotism that had been bought and paid for with service members as the pawns on the board.

Last week, many weeks into the controversy, there were what appeared to be public service announcements where players swore fealty to our nations’ service members, attempting to convince us that the protests had nothing to do with the military despite their choice of timing. The fact that they did so is proof enough that they came to the realization that they had screwed up.

My personal reaction to the PSAs was simple and immediate; “too little, too late.”