For many NFL fans, the game has long been a kind of escape — a way to relax after a hard day’s work, show loyalty to a beloved team, or just kick back and have fun with friends.
Over the past year, though, Americans have begun to notice another element that’s been gaining more and more prominence within the sport: politics.
Now, with seemingly every NFL game involving some kind of player protest, fans are sending the league a clear message that they’re fed up, by boycotting the NFL:
Tonight will be a silent protest against the anti-American “national” football league. Turn off the TV.#BoycottNFL
Across the board, fans have expressed a number of motivations for supporting #BoycottNFL, including respect for law enforcement:
— LiberatedCitizen (@LiberatedCit) September 12, 2016
And the military:
— Deneen Rae (@Drivefasterbaby) September 10, 2016
— J.La❤ (@Janetlarose1) September 16, 2016
And out of concern about the message players are sending to impressionable young Americans:
— Pastor Bones (@pastorbones) September 11, 2016
But most of all, it seems to be a matter of national pride:
— Dreaming of Peace (@cjsienna55) September 11, 2016
— Upstate Voice (@UpstateVoice) September 13, 2016
— FLPrincess4Trump♛ (@lollicakesFL) September 11, 2016
What’s more, it’s a boycott that appears to be catching on.
According to Forbes, the NFL’s 2016 season opener saw a ratings drop of 8% compared to 2015 and 6% compared to 2014.
The following Sunday’s numbers were even worse, coming in 13% lower than last year’s, with Forbes noting:
“This also marked the lowest overnight season-opening rating in seven years.”
On Sunday, the Commissioner of the NFL himself, Roger Goodell, weighed in on his players’ protests, calling them “progress” and “something we’re going to encourage.”
It was a viewpoint that clearly did little to stem the tide of the NFL boycott:
— vanguard ninja (@INTJutsu) September 19, 2016
For some, like boycott supporter James Olson, the fact that the NFL is allowing players like Colin Kaepernick to stage their protests on a nationally televised platform is just as infuriating as anything else:
“Sports used to not be a stage for this, and now it is, so I’m turning it off…
You can do this on our own time. Rent a stage somewhere and see if you can get a crowd of 70,000 people.”
In what might be a reflection of the growing boycott, disappointing numbers continued to roll in this week, with ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” reportedly earning its lowest ever ratings for this point in the season.
While the majority of the NFL season still left to play out, however, it’s difficult to say if the boycott will continue to thrive.
In the event that it does, time will tell if the National Football League will take a stand on this issue, or simply be content to lose viewership over its athletes’ political demonstrations.