Trump resumes attack on 'out of control' NFL as ratings slump continues
Donald Trump has mounted his fourth attack on the NFL in eight days, continuing his long campaign against the protest movement among the league’s players.
“At least 24 players kneeling this weekend at NFL stadiums that are now having a very hard time filling up,” the president tweeted on Tuesday morning. “The American public is fed up with the disrespect the NFL is paying to our Country, our Flag and our National Anthem. Weak and out of control!”
The exact number of players protesting against racial inequality in the US is hard to count as some kneel before the anthem, others stay in the tunnel while others stand with their arms on the shoulders of sitting team-mates. However, Trump’s figures roughly tally with those of the Associated Press, which counted 23 players sitting out the anthem during Sunday’s afternoon games. That is still a small minority of the league’s players, however: there are 32 teams in the NFL, and 46 players on each roster are eligible to play each week.
Trump prompted large numbers of players to protest earlier this season after saying anyone who kneels for the anthem should be fired. Ratings for last week’s games on Thanksgiving, usually a time when Americans gather round to watch football, were down, continuing a decline that has lasted all season. However, it is not clear that the protest movement is the reason behind the decline as TV ratings are down across US sports including Nascar, which is popular in Trump’s heartland.
Trump’s assertion on Tuesday that the NFL is having a hard time filling up stadiums is dubious. Attendances have held steady this year although the NFL takes into account season tickets in attendance figures, even if fans do not show up.
The president’s antipathy towards the protest movement is shared by large parts of America. An ESPN survey showed the majority of white Americans oppose the protests. The same survey showed most African Americans approve.
The protests have also influenced other sports. The German soccer team Hertha Berlin took a knee in solidarity with NFL players, while NBA star Kevin Durant said Colin Kaepernick, who started the movement, had made him more aware of his status as a black man in America. “It definitely put me in a different place because we just started talking about stuff that’s always been going on,” Durant told the San Jose Mercury News this week. “You tend to just focus on what you know, or focus on what you do every day, and sometimes you can be so far removed from where you grew up or from home that you don’t realize what’s going on back there.”
Seattle Seahawks players sit and kneel during the playing of the national anthem on Sunday. Photograph: Don Feria/AP