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The NFL is a TV Show and Covets its Audience More than its Players


In the wake of the controversy surrounding the national anthem protests around police brutality spearheaded by Colin Kaepernick in 2016, many pundits have said that the NFL is like a TV Show and that the protests are bad for ratings and thus bad for advertisers and business.  The collision of the announcement of the decision by the NFL, to in essence outlaw protests during the national anthem, with the release of the body cam video of police misconduct in the unnecessary harassment and arrest of Sterling Brown presents an interesting conundrum for the network (NFL).

The Sterling Brown video brought back the issue of police brutality to the forefront as a topic making it both inconvenient and difficult for the NFL and its owners to disaggregate it from the discussion around national anthem protests.

In their effort to face a problem head on, or at least mitigate it, the NFL and its owners have chosen the audience and advertisers of its TV shows over the casts of their shows.  

Very rarely will any employer be faced with an issue that directly or indirectly affects over 70% of its workforce.  If Kaepernick had decided to protest over urban poverty or education, or any other of a laundry list of problems facing the black community in this country, it may not have resonated with some black players.  However, the Sterling Brown video is just the latest in a long list of painful reminders that police misconduct and brutality is a possible and prescient reality for every black man in the country including the over 1,000 brothers in the NFL.

Instead of caring about the concerns of the cast, the network has decided to kowtow to the audience who they felt were growing tired of the “distraction”.

You can tell a lot about the target audience of a TV show by it’s theme song.  The theme to Monday Night Football is sung by Hank Williams, Jr. and the theme to Sunday Night Football is sung by Carrie Underwood, two country music stalwarts from different generations.  The theme to the NBA playoffs for the past two years have been performed by Kendrick Lamar and J Cole respectively, two black millennial rappers. But that’s another story for another day.

The fact that the network has sided with its audience instead of the cast should come as no surprise.  Unlike the NBA which is a star driven league, the brand of the NFL has never been about the cast. It’s always been about the show.  In that respect, the NFL is kind of like Saturday Night Live.  Yeah you get Eddie Murphy or Tina Fey for a few years but we’ll be fine as long as we stick to the formula that has made the show so popular for so many years. A formula put in place by one man by the way, Lorne Michaels. 

Watch very carefully what is going down in the reality show The Power Play Triangle that stars the Executive Producer, Director and Star of the longest running and most awarded show on the network, the New England Patriots.  The Star of the show (Tom Brady) recently made a power move by going over the head of the Director (Bill Belichick) to the Executive Producer (Robert Kraft). The Star thinks that he is the primary reason for the show’s success and wants special dispensation especially given his track record. The Director feels that he is the reason for the shows success and even had a young understudy in the wings ready to continue the shows record run.  

If the Star of that show is having a hard time making the network, Executive Producer and even the audience realize that the TV show’s success is more contingent on the star of the show and his cast than on the network, producers, writers or directors (GM’s and coaches) then what makes you think that the network will care about the concerns of the other actors and extras, especially the black ones.  It took them forever to address a very simple workplace safety (concussions) issue that they knew about and covered up for years.

One thing is for sure, the show will probably still go on and even be profitable if black folks stopped watching, but it can’t go on if black folks stop playing their role. 


About the author

Andre Kimo Stone Guess
Andre Kimo Stone Guess

Andre Kimo Stone Guess is a writer and cultural critic from the Smoketown neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky. He was VP and Producer for Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York and CEO of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in Pittsburgh. He now runs GuessWorks, Inc. with his wife Cheryl.

Educated Guesses A Blog Full of Guesses