By Thatcher Johnson, Contributor
The top storyline of the 2017-18 NFL season wasn’t the captivating play of ageless league MVP Tom Brady or even the fairytale finale that took place last February with the Philadelphia Eagles winning their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Not even Nick Foles’ underdog victory over Brady would be able to top the weekly controversy that would dim the lights of this brightest triumph. The rift among NFL fans caused by the wide display of anthem protests week to week was an unforgettable nightmare for Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL owners, coaching staffs, and fans alike.
Picture this: the average fan leans back on their couch after a hard week of work and reaches for their TV remote to turn on Sunday football. A ritual that has been bringing families and friends together for a day of rest and entertainment had, for many fans, become a day of frustration. NFL Sundays had become “I guess we can turn on a movie, or check or catch up on pre-recorded shows” Sunday. The NFL was no longer a part of the family and friends Sunday ritual.
Once the league office and Commissioner Goodell were forced to come to the realization of what they are ultimately responsible for allowing to take place on the fields, and more importantly in our living rooms, they became desperate.
The 2018-19 season’s month-long celebration of our military has been over the top compared to recent years. The pageantry of players wearing camouflage cleats, arm sleeves, and other equipment resembles the efforts of the pink attire we are accustomed to seeing on-field every October to raise breast cancer awareness. Celebrating our military with on-field equipment – once an afterthought that you might see a handful of players participating in – is now a league-wide trend that the viewer can’t miss. This tells us one thing for certain: the league office, owners, and players alike heard the noise.
How could they not? Owners took a hit to their pocket books as viewership rapidly declined, and the far too common scene was empty seats in stadiums across the league. The players became well aware of the pushback on social media, receiving messages from even the most die-hard fans voicing their dismay for what they viewed as disrespect for active military and veterans who fight/have fought to protect our freedom.
In the wake of an increased effort for November’s “Salute to Service”, the question remains: are their hearts in the right place, or is it all about the money? The NFL upped their donation for the use of the #SaluteToService hashtag this past Sunday to $25, as opposed to $5, for Veteran’s Day. While the admittedly cynical part of me wants to identify this as the same old NFL always focused on the money, I know this would be far short of a fair take.
The NFL’s efforts have ultimately been a success as they’ve reached their goal of $5 million, and will continue donating $1 for every #SaluteToService tweet through November 19th (This is where I actually endorse something the NFL is doing and ask you to participate by tweeting out the hashtag if you have not already!). To offer a frame of reference, the NFL’s donations in past seasons add up to around $26 million since 2011. You do the math… This year has far surpassed the average donation across the last seven years. While the league’s focus remains on money, the effort is a tremendous step towards bringing both boycotters and disappointed fans whose interests have wavered back into the fold.
Does it matter that this is an overt effort to lure fans back to the league and turn the tides in the wake of a season that financially can only be described as a failure directly related to widespread activism? The best answer I have to offer is, probably not. While the common fan might not see through the transparent nature of these efforts to show support for our military, it is my hope that you are amply aware of the good, bad, and the ugly as it pertains to the NFL’s attempt to band-aid their dire situation.
Ultimately, with the reverence displayed for the national anthem, the camouflage on-field gear teams and players are donning, and a massive donation to our military, the NFL is on an up-swing. As Kaepernick disciples begin to stand and living room TVs tune back into Sunday football, the NFL is creeping back into the lives of the casual fan and repairing the damage done by last season’s protests.