Brunell: NFL players hurting own bottom line

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Don Brunell, retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, is a business analyst, writer, and columnist. He lives in Vancouver and can be contacted at TheBrunells@msn.com.

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Portland, a young woman stepped onto the playing field at the beginning of the University of Montana vs. Portland State football game and started singing our national anthem. She immediately drew a blank on the words and briefly stopped, but as she started apologizing, the fans spontaneously took up the singing.

By the time the “Star-Spangled Banner” ended everyone in the packed stadium was singing in harmony. After the song ended, they gave her a huge ovation — clapping and cheering. For a moment, they were not Grizzlies or Vikings, they were all just proud American patriots at a traditional college football game.

When the teams ran onto the field, the lead Montana player carried a pole with a large American flag. To be the flag bearer is a great honor.

Contrast that with what has been happening at National Football League games where some players drop to their knees in protest during the national anthem. While the issues they raise merit our attention, their tactic is appalling.

Our country has its share of problems. Look around the world and you will find most nations do — many much worse. The point is there are far more respectful ways to get America’s attention.

Interestingly, the NFL is starting to feel the pinch from the protests. The league’s revenues are down, advertisers are getting complaints, and fans are walking away in protests of their own. They now question spending hundreds of dollars on tickets, parking, team gear and stadium food and beverages.

According to USA Today, fans are simply tuning out NFL football. Television ratings are down by double digits this year following an 8 percent drop last season. The No. 1 reason is the flag protests.

The lower ratings are a primary reason the league revenue is taking a $200 million hit, USA Today reported.

Social media is loaded with postings which show fans are burning expensive team jerseys. There is an exception. Sales of Pittsburgh Steeler lineman Alejandro Villanueva’s jersey are skyrocketing because he had the courage to leave the locker room and be the lone Steeler standing with his hand over his heart during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Villanueva, a West Point graduate, is a former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan. Many fans are veterans or on active duty or have family in the military. They identify with Villanueva because too many have seen flag-draped caskets returning home for burial.

Support for our flag cuts across political party and ideology lines. A recent Remington Research poll found that 64 percent of Americans believe that “NFL players should stand and be respectful during the national anthem” while just 24 percent disagree.

Further, nearly half of liberals and nearly two-thirds of moderates think players should find a more appropriate way to protest, even though many Americans were offended by President Donald Trump’s characterization of the NFL protesters.

Through all of the NFL turmoil, American flag sales, which dipped during the recession, are strong. 

Eder Flag Manufacturing Co., a company that has been making flags since 1887 in Oak Creek, Wis., had a banner year in 2016. Sales were up 15 percent from 2015.

NFL owners, advertisers and players need to tap into that patriotism and quit thumbing their noses at the flag. While they say they mean no disrespect, their actions say otherwise.

There is no question that America has its faults and treated people unjustly over our past 240 years, but we have made great strides thanks to visionary leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Players need to stand up and use their influence to make positive changes.