Tuesday, September 26, 2017

NFL, What's Next?

As a big sports fan the NFL the past year has become exhausting. Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling to bring attention to police brutality against black men and women and the continuous racial inequities has gotten further away from that. It started soon after his protest. It became about the military, the anthem, patriotism, respect for the country , the flag and other talking points.

Photo Credit; Getty Images
He is still without a team. Ratings are reportedly down. There are opposing boycotts with each side wanting to take credit for the ratings decline. When the drop in ratings is a combination of many factors which include the opposing protests/boycotts. Then there was Donald Trump’s comments at a Alabama rally last Friday that led to the “Unity” moments throughout the NFL this past weekend. That was the tipping point for me to be exhausted with how all of this has played out.

Most of the NFL’s key sponsors have been quiet. “I’d expect most sponsors to stay quiet, at the risk of alienating a significant percentage of their customers,” said Bob Dorfman, executive vice president of Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco.

The owners had their business attacked, sent statements and joined players in an attempt for feel good unified moments. The players, coaches, and owners taking a knee, staying in the locker room and/or locking arms were more in protest of Trump and an attack on their right to protest rather than what started the kneeling in the first place. From a political standpoint this was a trick play by Trump straight out of the Nixon Southern Strategy playbook. It shift focus from health care, North Korea, Russia, Puerto Rico and the other long list of issues. Now that the photo ops from this past weekend
are over, what’s next?

This is an opportunity the NFL can take advantage of, but it must be organized and clearly communicated between NFL owners and players. The league does plenty of charity work. Players volunteer their time and resources to worthy causes. For a league that 70% of their players are black it is time to include causes that are a reflection of the concerns that affect them and the communities they came from which Kaepernick has been doing the last year. 

Where was the NFL during the water crisis that is still a problem in Flint, MI? Where was the unity when Michael Bennett had a gun to his head in Las Vegas? JJ Watt of the Houston Texans used his platform to raise over $37 million after Hurricane Harvey with support from other athletes, celebrities, and over 200,000 donors. The NFL didn’t have a league wide coming together to address that on a game day. 

The NFL is an over a $13 billion industry. Visiting their foundations website there isn’t a person of color on their board. Their grants appear to be focused on youth football and physical activity. Both are worthy causes, but how about causes and programs that could impact the conditions in the cities of these teams such as Baltimore, Chicago, and Detroit. 

In February 2016 the NFLPA launched a new resource program for player members called Foundation Fundamentals. Foundation Fundamentals works in partnership with The Giving Back Fund, a national nonprofit organization that encourages and facilitates charitable giving by professional athletes, celebrities, high-net worth individuals, existing nonprofit organizations, corporations and others who truly desire to “give back.”  

There is a clearly a disconnect. The NFL has an agenda about their causes which is different from their players. This is an opportunity for both sides to come together organize, plan, invest and implement resources and programs that can have a profound impact on communities.

The NFL is always reactive instead of proactive. Recent examples are Ray Rice with domestic violence because of a video and player safety because of lawsuits.

Since law enforcement is a hot topic and local police forces do not invest in mental health, physical health, cultural awareness and education for officers like they should the NFL could create or give funding to existing programs. 

It will take leadership within the league to get things moving past symbolic gestures. Protest are meant for discomfort and create discussion then they need to transition to action.  It’s time for the NFL to start that process.