Goodell Defends Kneelers

In a not entirely expected move, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell came out of a meeting with several NFL players offering words of support for player protests during the National Anthem. He told CNN he did not believe the players were trying to be “disrespectful” with their protests. However, he did say he believes the players should stand.

It’s this kind of straddle the fence response that can get Goodell in trouble with, well, just about everyone. Players don’t want the commish telling them their business, and fans don’t want the NFL to continue to allow the protests. While coming down on neither side might be the best move, politically, for Goodell, it’s certainly a decision that won’t make anyone happy.

For “protest protesters,” the most frustrating decision to come out of the two-day NFL owners meeting was likely the “no-decision” about what to do about kneeling players. The NFL chose not to change official league policy, which, essentially, says players should – but are not required – to stand for the anthem. In, perhaps, one of the most unnecessary soundbites of the presser, Goodell said, “(Players) will state to you, and they have stated to everyone publicly, they are not doing this in any way to be disrespectful to the flag… But they also understand how it’s being interpreted…”

Yes. This is true.

And that “interpretation” is driving some interesting fan dynamics in the league. Millions are claiming to be boycotting the NFL this year. While there are some reports that attendance and revenues are down, many teams are still reporting sold-out crowds and merchandise flying off the shelves. Many believe that those who burned jerseys and other memorabilia this year will be back to replace all that stuff next season. Based on previous sports protests, they’re likely correct about that, at least.

But that doesn’t change the current tone of the discussion around this issue. People are enraged, and those feelings have not abated for weeks now. President Trump has even weighed in, on Twitter, of course, to chastise the NFL. This move fired up his considerable base, who have been threatening to stop supporting the NFL “for good” if they don’t immediately force players to stand.

With this decision, it’s clear the League believes these fans don’t pose much of a threat to their revenue stream, at least long-term. What happens if the protests and counter-protests continue? Expect this issue to be revisited…with what may be a different result.

Leading sports PR firms include Cohn & Wolfe and DKC PR.

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