Will the NFL ever accept that choosing politics over its fans was a bad bet?

The New England Patriots could be well on their way to their sixth Super Bowl win. With the help of quarterback Tom Brady they could end the season tying the Pittsburgh Steelers with the most Super Bowl rings.

That’s likely where most bets are being placed. However, no matter who wins it’s clear the NFL is this season’s biggest loser.

The NFL was faced with a public relations nightmare this year as it chose to get political on the field and allow its players to kneel in protest of social injustices during the National Anthem.

The protest started in 2016 by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, but saw many others follow suit this season. Many Americans found it outrageous and disrespectful to the men and women who fought and died for our country, and believed these protests served no purpose on the field. 

If they are really concerned about bringing about change, these players should use their celebrity status and platform to go out into their communities and speak to the issues that concern them when they are off the clock. Any NFL player, especially a quarterback, would get as much airtime as they wanted on local TV and would be welcomed into any local police precinct to discuss any issue they cared about — it would be standing room only.

The NFL used to be a sport that brought people of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds together on Sunday afternoons. Team loyalty ran deep and there was a common bond you’d share with people loyal to the same team.

Fifty-two percent of Americans believe kneeling during the National Anthem is not appropriate. Players are on the field at game time to do a job.

For them to pull a political stunt, and for the NFL to continue to enable it, while alienating more than half of its fan base, is just bad business.  Not to mention, nothing these players say they’re fighting against has changed since these protests have started.

What has changed is the number of people opting to stay home this season. Twenty-two NFL teams saw fewer fans in their stadiums, and as a result attendance dropped by three percent in 2017.

Not only are more people staying home this season, but they are also opting to turn off their TVs and sit out football altogether.

The NFL’s ratings for 2017 fell nine percent for the regular season compared to the previous year, including a significant drop in ratings for prime time contests.  Viewership for Sunday Night Football dropped from 20.3 million in 2016 to 18.2 million in 2017; Monday Night Football went from 11.4 million in 2016 to 10.8 million in 2017; and Thursday Night Football dropped from 12.4 million in 2016 to 11 million in 2017.

The NFL’s unfavorable rating also hit the highest of any major sport in 2017, topping off at 40 percent, according to a survey by the Winston Group. Just a couple of years ago the consensus among sports commentators was that football had replaced baseball as America’s number one sport.

Last week, NFL executive vice president of communications and public affairs Joe Lockhart resigned from his post saying that he wanted to spend more time with his family. That’s usually the explanation we hear from politicians who, for whatever reason, have to end their careers — when it’s really code for something more serious.

Lockhart should know as his background is political, including a stint as former President Clinton’s White House press secretary. In a season laden with damage control missteps and bad ratings, it’s very likely he’s just a casualty of the public relations train wreck the NFL brought upon itself.

The NFL used to be a sport that brought people of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds together on Sunday afternoons. Team loyalty ran deep and there was a common bond you’d share with people loyal to the same team.

However, now that political agendas have hijacked the former number one sport, the game that once brought us together is instead dividing us.

At a time where there is much we can disagree on in the world, when it comes to football the only thing dividing us should be whether or not Brady and the Patriots deserve a sixth Super Bowl ring. 

Lauren DeBellis Appell was deputy press secretary for then-Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., in his successful 2000 re-election campaign, as well as assistant communications director for the Senate Republican Policy Committee (2001-2003).