Politics Are Splitting the NFL’s Fan Base

Members of the San Francisco 49ers take a knee before the game on Oct. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

(CN) — Pollsters Monday attributed the NFL’s declining ratings and attendance this season equally to fans unhappy with the league’s lukewarm response to the “take a knee” protests led by Colin Kaepernick, and to other fans who support President Trump’s call to boycott the NFL for not being tough enough against the players.

Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers and had filed a grievance against the league, claiming owners are colluding to keep him off the field because of his decisions to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality toward black Americans.

The poll results released Monday by SurveyMonkey and Ozy Media found fans equally split on the protests.

Trump has taken to Twitter repeatedly to criticize the NFL and its players for the protests.

“At least 24 players kneeling this weekend at NFL stadiums that are now having a very hard time filling up,” Trump tweeted on Nov. 28. “The American public is fed up with the disrespect the NFL is paying to our Country, our Flag and our National Anthem. Weak and out of control!”

Trump called for a boycott of the league in September if the protests did not stop, and said NFL owners should fire or suspend players for kneeling — the first such intrusion by a U.S. president into professional sport.

In a political stunt, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game in October and posted about it on social media. The staged walkout cost the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department more than $14,000 in expenses to help protect Pence, and air travel and other expenses for Pence’s travel from and to Washington were estimated to cost taxpayers another $250,000.

In the new poll, 34 percent of respondents said they boycotted the league to support the players and Kaepernick. Thirty-two percent said they boycotted in support of the president. Thirteen percent said they ignored games when they had no interest in the teams playing and 11 percent said they were losing interest due to “news about traumatic brain injuries among players.”

Men were more likely than women to support the president, 35 percent to 25 percent. Women were more likely to support the players, 30 percent to 17 percent.

The NFL television ratings for the 2017 regular season decreased by 9.7 percent from 2016, according to Nielsen. Viewership of last weekend’s wild card playoffs decreased by 14 percent from 2016.

While Trump took credit for the lower ratings and attendance, the attendance decline predated the protests, which started in 2016.

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