2017 is not your usual NFL season. The Philadelphia Eagles are super bowl favorites, and the Patriots are labeled as one of the worst defenses in the league. The Cleveland Browns are probably the only model of consistency right now as one of the worst operated franchises in professional football, and are currently poised to snatch the first overall pick from San Francisco. There has however been a large political shadow cast over the NFL as of late regarding player protests of police brutality by kneeling for the national anthem. The message started when then San Francisco Quarterback, Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench during the national anthem for all four of the pre-season games in 2016. In late August, Kaepernick elaborated on the reasoning of his protests saying his goal was to essentially provide a voice for the black victims of police brutality who did not have their own voice. After being told from former military that sitting during the anthem could be perceived as a sign of disrespect, Kaepernick then preceded to kneel on one knee on the sideline during the anthem rather than sit. His reasoning is, his message is not to disrespect the military but instead to make a statement about the mistreatment of African American people from the law.

Since those initial protests from Colin Kaepernick, similar acts have been imitated in other sports and have led to an increase in black athletes speaking out against the same things Kaepernick tried to talk about. This phenomenon has polarized the NFL, leading for some to boycott the games entirely and other to commend the athletes trying to improve the lives of people. Recent controversies have arisen over Texans’ owner Bob McNair’s “inmates running the prison” comment, leading to players like Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman, calling McNair out personally. Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones has gone on record saying that any member of the Cowboys who refused to stand for the anthem would be cut from the team.

The problem with the actions of these owners is they are essentially taking away the free speech rights of the players. The owners want to cover their selves and protect their investments out of a fear that the protests of their players will lead to a significant decrease in ratings. The NFL is a financial behemoth, generating billions in revenue each year. NFL owners and commissioner Roger Goodell have fallen to corporate greed, thanks to the significantly higher financial gain the league generates over all other professional sports leagues in America. Lately however, the NBA has gained distance on the gap and could potentially surpass the NFL if the NFL’s ratings continue to plummet. NFL owners have convinced themselves that the protests are the only reason the ratings are suffering, but the NBA has been on the rise since for years now. The NBA benefits from fans associating with players and their brands more so than the NBA teams themselves. The NFL is the opposite, great players are recognized but they are almost always held in regard to their team. If the NFL refuses to recognize the individual rights of their players, the turmoil will only get worse and the owners will have only themselves to blame.