Sports And Politics Don’t Mix

At least for now, gone are the days when you could turn on a game, cheer for your team and your favorite players while escaping the rest of the world. What Colin Kaepernick kicked off with his depiction of police officers as pigs on his clothing while protesting the national anthem have culminated in essentially whole sports leagues and teams doing the same. Despite Jacob Blake having an outstanding criminal warrant out for his arrest, resisting arrest, and allegedly threatening the arresting officers with a knife, he’s been made into a victim with assumed guilt for law enforcement and an assumption that the police officer responded as he did because of race. 

Sports leagues, starting with and most notably the NBA, have decided to lead on the assumption of guilt and advance an unevidenced narrative that race had something to do with Blake being shot. The problem with assumed guilt is that it’s not victimless. Every day the approximate 800,000 law enforcement professionals who go to work are facing more difficult circumstances with which to conduct an already difficult job. What’s ironic is the assumed guilt by the “social justice warriors” is literally anti-American as the criminal justice system is literally the reverse. If you’ve become fed up without the boycotts and political messaging of players and sports leagues, you're far from alone.

At the start of the NBA “bubble” season and Major League Baseball season, we saw big ratings for the first day games which were played. The subsequent games, huge declines. Anyone who tuned into openers was subjected to Black Lives Matter protesting and messaging on the court and field with engagement by players and teams. The next day ratings were off by around 40%. The NBA playoffs, in the middle of a pandemic during which the NFL Draft set a rating record, have a cumulative with rating decline of 20% over last year. Coincidence? Not likely. A just-completed study by BASC Partners of sports fans found the following percentage of fans were “At-Risk” of walking away from sports they followed due to politics during games:

  • NFL: 24%
  • MLB: 21%
  • NBA & NHL: 17%
  • MLS & NASCAR: 14%

The percentage of “At-Risk” fans closely mirrors the ratings decline we’ve witnessed for the NBA in particular. What’s more, is that even if fans won’t entirely give up on a particular sport, they may still watch it less due to politics. Sixty percent of all sports fans say athletes shouldn’t use their platforms for political interests, including 72% of baseball fans and 70% of NFL fans.

This is telling. We don’t watch sports for politics. We watch for an escape. Combine that with assumed guilt in an instance in which no wrongdoing has yet been determined by a police officer and the recipe is especially ripe for defections. The study noted the NBA’s viewership is off 45% over the past decade. Given what the league has become and what this research illustrates, it's easy to see why it’s leading the pack in defections. This story fits into the silent majority conversation. If you’re among those who are alienated by the inability to turn on a game and just enjoy – you're part of the majority. As usual, it’s media and pop culture that aren’t.

Photo by: Getty Images North America

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