Last week’s Super Bowl was the lowest rated since 2009. This was in part due to general disinterest—the New England Patriots had won five Super Bowls since 2002, which proved frustrating for any non-Patriot fans. And their opponents, the Los Angeles Rams, have yet to acquire a solid fanbase.
A larger reason for this year’s unpopularity, however, was the controversy surrounding former 49ers player Colin Kaepernick. After Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem to protest the shootings of unarmed black Americans by police officers, a national outcry erupted. This year, Kaepernick was not signed to any NFL teams, despite his abilities as a player being unquestionable. Kaepernick accused NFL owners of colluding to keep him out of the league, eventually filing a lawsuit that will go to trial.
Many accused the NFL of racism, and boycotts of the Super Bowl abounded. Film director Ava DuVernay tweeted, “I will not be a spectator, viewer or supporter of the Super Bowl today in protest of the NFL’s racist treatment of [Kaepernick] … To watch the game is to compromise my beliefs.” Similarly, a number of musical acts refused to play alongside Maroon 5 for the Super Bowl halftime show out of protest. These include Rihanna, Jay-Z and Cardi B, who said that she wouldn’t play unless “they bring Colin Kaepernick back.”
These boycotts are valuable, and hopefully will push the NFL into treating the situation with NFL’s actions regarding Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick commented, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” The oppression of people of color in America is one of our nation’s most urgent issues. If the NFL refuses to recognize that, it is understandable that people would rescind their support of the association.
If the NFL is trying to stay apolitical, that is one thing. But to interfere with a player’s ability to be employed based on his expression of political beliefs is another. Any football team that Kaepernick plays for does not have to share his views on racial inequality and oppression in the American system. However, he should be allowed to express himself. By kneeling during the pre-game National Anthem, Kaepernick is neither hurting anyone nor detracting from the game itself.
The NFL is considered a private company, so from a purely legal perspective, it is arguable that they can punish Kaepernick for his actions. However, the terrible ratings from last week’s Super Bowl, in addition to prominent musical artists’ refusal to participate in the halftime show, reveal the non-legal consequences of their treatment of Kaepernick. Even if Colin Kaepernick loses the lawsuit, many Americans will continue to dismiss the NFL as an outdated, racist institution. Lower ratings will equal lower charges for advertisements, the NFL’s main source of income. If the NFL wants to remain afloat, they should start respecting their players’ expressions of freedom.