Opinion: Has Super Bowl become too political?

Chris Talgo

In the eloquent words of Hank Williams Jr., “Are you ready for some football?” On February 3, Super Bowl LIII will kick off in Atlanta. 

"In today’s hyper politicized environment, sometimes it is best to leave your opinion to yourself and focus on your job."

Last year, 103.4 million people watched the big game, the smallest audience since 2009. In fact, NFL viewership experienced a steep decline in 2016 and 2017 as well (ratings are up slightly for the 2018 season). 

Although the drop in NFL ratings is a complicated matter, one cannot discount the fact that many fans are tuning out because the game has simply become too political. 

In fairness, many American professional sports leagues are also struggling with declining viewership, but the NFL’s recent ratings dive is more pronounced because the game has exploded in popularity over the past decade. Sorry sports fans, major league baseball might be the nation’s pastime, but Americans are (or at least were) NFL-obsessed.

So what gives? Why is the once-mighty NFL being sacked with low ratings all of a sudden?

Well, let’s take a timeout and consider that the NFL got blitzed at the beginning of the 2016 season. It all began when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand during the playing of the national anthem before the start of the final preseason game. 

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said at a news conference after the game. 

Almost overnight, the controversy gained more speed than a wide receiver sprinting downfield. Several other players joined Kaepernick in refusing to stand for the anthem. 

Meanwhile, the “take a knee” issue shot to the forefront of the nation’s (already heated) societal discourse. Polls revealed that a majority of Americans opposed the reason behind the players’ decision to kneel, although a vast majority said they have the right to do so.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, the issue grew bigger than an offensive lineman’s appetite. Eventually, President Donald Trump weighed in, which further fanned the flames of the kneeling firestorm.

In the ensuing years, the tenor and tone of the so-called kneeling debate has vacillated more than a rookie quarterback’s performance on any given Sunday. Players have referred to the NFL as a modern-day plantation and to NFL team owners as slave owners. Last time I checked, slaves have not typically been paid millions of dollars to play a child’s game, as NFL players are.

No doubt, NFL bigwigs such as Commissioner Roger Goodell fumbled this issue from the very beginning. However, the reality is that most Americans, including yours truly, watch sports as an escape from politics.

Long ago, Hollywood and practically all other elements of American pop culture were infiltrated by politics and infected with political correctness gone wild — no wonder nobody wants to host the Oscars — but sports, especially football, was supposed to be immune from the political virus.

In other words, if the NFL wants to regain its throne atop the sports universe — sorry soccer fans, but this is America — maybe it is time for the players, owners and talking heads on sports radio to get back to basics. For the sake of the league — and the sanity of sports fans — put aside the politics.

Of course athletes and entertainers have the right to voice their opinions. However, in today’s hyper politicized environment, sometimes it is best to leave your opinion to yourself and focus on your job. 

Chris Talgo is an editor at The Heartland Institute. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.