Imagine you’re an NFL team and your league has been mired in a two-year slump of declining ratings and attendance and has been on the receiving end of a never-ending barrage of bad publicity over the players’ offensive action of protesting the flag and National Anthem.
What would be the last thing you do so as not to alienate your fan base further? How about having the nerve, in a public team statement, to call a disabled veteran that you planned to honor, both sad and divisive for speaking out and refusing to accept an award from your team because he has an issue with NFL’s players protesting during the National Anthem? If you thought no organization would be that stupid and tone deaf to do this, may I present to you the New Orleans Saints football franchise.
The New Orleans Saints had planned to give something called the Peoples Health Champion Award to retired Commander John Wells, who is the Executive Director of Military Veterans Advocacy. In a very public way, Mr. Wells declined the honor saying, “Although I am touched and honored to be selected for such an award, the ongoing controversy with NFL players’ disrespect for the national flag forces me to decline to participate in the presentation.” He continued, “I am unable, in good conscience, to enter an NFL stadium while this discourtesy prevails. Since this award is tainted with the dishonorable actions of the NFL and its players, I cannot accept it.”
Instead of letting this slight slide, the Saints in one of the most toxic public statements I’ve ever seen a sports team make, attacked Mr. Wells’ discourse as sad and divisive. The Saints apparently are so out of touch they don’t realize that most people feel it is the NFL that is sad and divisive for its public protest during what should be nonpartisan entertainment.
The Saints’ brass is also so delusional it believes it should get a pat on the back from Americans because its players only had one game where they knelt during the anthem. Unfortunately for the Saints, once is one time too many, and when Saints players knelt during the anthem before week three this year, that travesty could not be undone. It is the New Orleans Saints’ organization that has impugned and damaged its own reputation, not Mr. Wells.
But taking a knee is something the Saints players are good at. Most weeks Saints players take a knee just prior to the anthem and then stand up right before it begins. Isn’t doing that a lot more divisive than Mr. Wells’ comments? And let’s not forget some Saints players took a knee during a moment of silence for police officer Marcus McNeil, who was killed in the line of duty. They weren’t kneeling for him. Way to stay classy, New Orleans Saints.
Saints linebacker Kenny Dwayne Vaccaro sent out a series of tweets after the Wells incident and, referencing the players’ protest, included this fan friendly tweet: “We already said what we were gonna do so get the picture or don’t come.” Boy, that really makes you want to rush to the Superdome!
But as former Obama spiritual guru the Rev. Jeremiah Wright might say, “The chickens are coming home to roost” for the NFL and its poor stewardship of its brand. Not only is the league suffering from declining ratings and attendance, but its sponsors are starting to buckle. Long time advertiser Papa John’s is reconsidering its relationship with the NFL, due to the anthem protests. John Schnatter, Papa John’s CEO, cited the NFL’s “poor leadership” in handling the anthem and said the protest should have been “nipped in the bud.” Additionally, Wall Street analysts are starting to grumble that CBS earnings could take a major hit as falling ratings mean less ad revenue for the network.
The NFL is in such a sorry state that Houston Texans owner Bob McNair got into a world of trouble with his players, NFL brass, and the media for complaining that “You can’t have the inmates run the prison,” in regards to players protesting while in uniform. I suspect McNair used the wrong institution in his analogy. He should have said, “You can’t have the inmates running the asylum.” After all, judging by the decisions being made, the NFL has lost its mind.