NFL Viewers Return for 2018 Season

Robert Quinn continued anthem protests in 2018 but recognized a lack of media attention to them.

Robert Quinn continued anthem protests in 2018 but recognized a lack of media attention to them.

By Free Radical

NFL viewership increased by 5 percent for the 2018 football season, according to league sources. The NFL had experienced a crisis of confidence the previous year as controversy over player protests resulted in a decline of viewers.

While the average NFL game attracted 15.8 million viewers in 2018, only 14.7 people watched NFL games in 2017. That was a steep drop from the 2016 figure of 16.5 million and the 2015 average of 17.9 million.

One cause for the increased viewership may have been the league and various media outlets’ decision to not focus on league protests as they had done last year.

Before this season, the NFL ruled in May that players would have to stand during the national anthem on the field or remain off of the field until it was over. However, this mandate was suspended as a result of the players’ union complaint that it violated their rights.

This boded well for the league whose many owners constantly expressed their preference to focus on football rather than social justice.

There had been flareups such as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones statement that he would defy league policy by requiring his players to stand during the anthem. Also in November, San Francisco 49ers cheerleader Kayla Morris made headlines when she knelt during the anthem.

There have also been several players who have refused to stand during the anthem, either by kneeling, raising their fists, sitting, or remaining in the locker room while it has been played.

Nonetheless, these acts of resistance have received much less media attention than in recent years. Robert Quinn, who once played for the St. Louis Rams but now is on the Miami Dolphins roster, expressed his frustration with the virtual media blackout of player protests. Late last month, he told the Miami Herald, “Y’all ignore it. Because when I gave my first message on trying to bring unity, y’all swept it under the rug. It’s not me. When you don’t give a problematic story, y’all just ran away.”

Quinn may have a point. In 2017, ESPN, the nation’s leading sports network, kept a running tally of all players who protested during the anthem. This year, that list has disappeared. Even in reporting on the league’s increased viewership in 2018, ESPN writer Kevin Seifert curiously made no mention of player protests.

It should be noted that ESPN was in great fear of losing money in 2017 as fewer viewers watched its flagship show Monday Night Football, a show the network pays $1.9 billion annually to broadcast.

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