As the NFL’s protests raged on into Week 4, the league and Roger Goodell has finally come to an understanding that it cannot let it continue from an economic standpoint. With ratings in the toilet and ticket sales plummeting, the NFL is the real loser in its players’ feud with President Donald Trump.
So, Goodell picked up the phone and called his natural enemy, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, with a basic question: what can we do to stop the bleeding and get these players to stand?
Smith didn’t appreciate Goodell’s request, and he immediately took to the media to voice his outrage with the commissioner.
“It certainly was my takeaway that the commissioner was looking for a way for the protests to end,” said Smith. “Knowing the league the way I know the league, they are first and foremost concerned about the impact on their business. That’s always their first concern. I mean, who are we kidding? My only response was, ‘I don’t have the power to tell our players what to do.’…At the end of the day, this is a group of players who are exercising their freedom. There is no room for me to snap my fingers and tell our players, ‘It’s time for you to give up a freedom.’ Just the idea offends me. It’s almost as if the players are being asked, ‘What’s it going to take for you to stop asking to be free or to be treated like an American?’”
As I have mentioned in the past, I disagree completely that the protests and kneeling during the national anthem are a First Amendment debate or have anything to do with the players being “treated like an American.” I have yet to hear a single person argue that the players do not have the right as Americans to protest, and if there are any idiots out there legitimately calling for Colin Kaepernick to be arrested, they’re in the ridiculous minority on that subject.
So, what’s left? Well, the economics of the issue. And those get a little more complicated. The NFL is concerned about its bottom line and rightfully so. If the NFL starts losing money, then the NFL teams start to lose money, then the players start to lose money. Remember, these players are employees, albeit high-profile employees, and they can’t make money if their bosses aren’t.
So, while Smith sees this whole situation as an opportunity for the players to turn the tables on the owners and regain some bargaining power, they might end up hurting themselves if they take it too far. This is something that Goodell is fighting to control.
“For the first time, the owners are afraid of the players,” said Smith. “It has less to do with money and it has more to do with control. The owners are used to being in control—and they aren’t on this. They know it. They hate it.”
And while the NFL has been doing fantastic for the past several years, the TV ratings and ticket sales have been dropping drastically over the past year. This issue is all-encompassing, and with the president getting involved, it has blown to critical mass within less than a week.
As Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder reported at the owners’ meeting, a “$40 million” NFL sponsor was considering pulling out on account of the national anthem protests and the players taking knees. He continued to emphasize that “$40 million” number throughout the speech to really push the point home. Sure, $40 million is less than $1 million per team after the players take their cut, but the point is that things are moving quickly, and if 40 $40 million sponsors drop during or after this season, all of a sudden the league is in deep, serious trouble financially.
Smith, however, wasn’t having any of it, citing the owners’ willingness to holdout back in 2011.
“The owners had no problem whatsoever giving up $10 billion worth of revenue when they decided they were going to cancel football for an entire year,” said Smith, referring to the owners’ 2011 lockout. “Now they want to make an economic argument to the players that exercising their freedom somehow hurts the business.”
Of course, as Smith should remember, the lockout was also partially caused by the players who were asking for a lot in terms of monetary compensation (such as a continuation of no rookie salary caps) and were eventually convinced by a mediator to settle with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. Even back then, the owners were simply playing their strength (the players’ salaries) in threatening a lockout, much as Smith seems to suggest the players should do now.
There’s certainly no easy solution for Goodell, and with nearly half of the San Francisco 49ers taking a knee this week, things aren’t moving overly quickly towards a solution.
Please don’t let football die.