Just hours ahead of the first kickoffs on the first Sunday of the NFL’s regular season, President Trump again called for NFL players to stand for the national anthem and for TV networks to broadcast it, pointing to a decline in television ratings for the league’s season opener Thursday night.
“Wow, NFL first game ratings are way down over an already really bad last year comparison,” he tweeted. “Viewership declined 13%, the lowest in over a decade. If the players stood proudly for our Flag and Anthem, and it is all shown on broadcast, maybe ratings could come back? Otherwise worse!”
Even though Colin Kaepernick would later join Trump in tweeting about the issue, however, it was a relatively quiet day as it pertained to the issue, with most of the discussion on the league’s first Sunday focused on the action on the field.
The season-opening games featured few demonstrations during the playing of the anthem, with Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson of the Dolphins taking a knee and their teammate, Robert Quinn, raising a fist before the game against the Titans. Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who started the idea of demonstrating during the anthem, tweeted that Stills and Wilson, who have frequently protested by kneeling before games, “continue to show their unwavering strength by fighting for the oppressed! They have not backed down, even when attacked and intimidated. Their courage will move the world forward! ‘Love is at the root of our resistance!’”
There did not appear to be any other player protests during the playing of the national anthem before other games Sunday. For the most part, it was football as usual the year after player demonstrations to raise awareness of social injustice and police brutality were at their height, inflamed at times by comments and tweets from the president.
Fox and CBS typically do not televise the anthem before their 1 p.m. Eastern time regional telecasts, although an exception was made before those games of Week 3 last year by Fox, CBS, NBC, the NFL Network and DirecTV. ESPN showed the anthem last season after the shooting in Las Vegas, after the first weekend of demonstrations and when the Monday night game fell on the 16th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Networks do not plan to change that policy, using the time before kickoff to sell ads. However, NBC did carry the anthem Thursday night before the season opener between the Falcons and the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles.
Before Thursday’s game, Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins, who has emerged as a leader of the players’ protest movement, did not demonstrate.
“At this point I think it’s important for us and for the movement to continue to change and adapt to the context of the situation,” Jenkins said after the game. “I think there’s a huge need for us to turn the attention towards the issues and not only the issues, but what players actually do in their communities to effectuate change. We’re trying to move past the rhetoric of what’s right and what’s wrong and all that. We need to focus on these issues that pertain to our communities.”
Last month, the president started a petition calling on “spineless” ESPN to show the anthem before “Monday Night Football.”
Trump’s tweet Sunday referred to ratings for the NFL season opener between the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night, a sluggish 18-12 Eagles win that began over 40 minutes late because of lightning in Philadelphia. The game drew a 13.4 overnight rating, according to the network, that was the lowest in 10 years for a season opener. The number is down from the 14.6 the 2017 opener drew and the 16.5 of 2016. NBC’s public relations people pointed out that the ratings were the best for any sporting event since the 2018 Winter Olympics.
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