Football fans routinely do plenty of huffing and puffing, but they rarely blow the house down. This time around, the NFL worries about the house getting blown down.
Every year, bad teams emerge and their fans (in most non-California instances) still support them. And even if any given season (or, in Cleveland, every given season) becomes lost, a reset to 0-0 is always less than four months away. For true fans, the tattoo on their soul is permanent, and disowning a favorite team is every bit as hard as disowning a child.
But this thing could be different. A league that has openly pandered to the military and the flag (and, in turn, to those who would react favorably to pandering to the military and the flag) now finds itself caught between a movement that has, after 13 months of simmering, exploded into a full boil that threatens to hit the league where it hurts the most.
As one source with knowledge of the situation explained it to PFT on Thursday night, the owners are indeed afraid. Not of their players, physically or otherwise, but of the fans who may indeed go away and never return. That’s why the league is trying to delicately defuse a loudly ticking bomb that could blow out the bank accounts via reduced box-office receipts, bad ratings! (and, in turn, less lucrative TV deals), diminished merchandise sales, and various other factors that could cause the golden goose not necessarily to die but to noticeably decrease her production of eggs.
Players should be concerned about this, too, since they’re feasting on those eggs. Under the current labor deal, they share the revenues; if less money flows in to the sport, less money flows out to the players — and the salary cap will drop or at a minimum stop growing like it has.
Yes, the concerns the players are raising are much bigger than whether their large paychecks shrink a little. But if there’s a way to harmonize the expression of those concerns with the fans who always will believe that kneeling or sitting during the anthem constitutes the kind of disrespect that will push them away, the players in their capacity as businessmen should want to find it.
One team at a time, players seem to be realizing that there’s a way to raise these concerns without creating the perception of disrespect to flag, country, military. If/when all 32 teams come to that point, the President can declare victory, devote one of 140 characters to a thumb’s up emoji to the NFL, and everyone can move on.