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NFL Monday Night Ratings Hit by Anthem Protest?

by Kitty Testa

Monday Night Football ratings were down this week compared to the week one of the 2015 season. Game 1 of the double-header, Pittsburgh vs.Washington, scored 9.1 in Nielsen’s ratings, down 7% from the 2015 opener. Game 2 on the west coast wasn’t exactly a triumphant return to L.A. for the Rams, who were trounced by the San Francisco 49ers 28-0, while game viewership fell 25% from 2015.

Some are attributing the ratings slump to the NFL players’ anthem protest, which started with Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers taking a knee during the anthem. Other NFL players have joined Kaepernick, and some are raising fists as well. Many have been highly critical of Kaepernick, but are fans really angry enough to boycott the television broadcast?

The furor over the anthem protest is not only hysterical, but also somewhat hypocritical. Who stands for the anthem in their living room? Have you ever seen anyone do that? For most people it’s a time to grab a beer or run to the bathroom before kick-off. But even if the anger is unreasonable, it is real. And that’s a problem for the NFL because those angry people are the league’s customers.

Kaepernick is an employee, granted a highly paid and famous employee, but an employee nonetheless. So where does Colin Kaepernick’s freedom of speech end and his employer’s economic interests begin?

If you’ve ever actually read through an employee handbook, you would see that employers do, in fact, regulate behavior while on the job. There is a code of conduct, which often includes no campaigning for political candidates, or using the company email system to spread political or religious beliefs. Few people have jobs that place them in front of millions of television viewers, but those who do accept that their employer expects that they will act and dress a certain way that the employer has determined to be good for the firm. It’s why you don’t see Goth game show hosts and why almost every woman on Fox News looks like a beauty contestant just past her prime. It’s how the Dixie Chicks ruined their careers by insulting George W. Bush, whom many of their fans (aka customers) really admired. It may be hard to accept, but when someone else pays you, you have to toe the line on behavior. Yes we have freedom of speech, but that speech also comes with consequences. When those consequences are borne by your employer instead of you, personally, you may find yourself unemployed.

If the anthem protests are deemed offensive by the NFL’s customer base, and especially if the protest is harmful to the team’s bottom line, the league, and the teams, do have the right to squash the players’ free speech on game day.  Kaepernick has as many outlets as the rest of us to exercise free speech.  He ought to have just started a Facebook group.

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