Football is entertainment. People watch sports because they are--or were meant to be, at least--complete escapism. You watch a sport to take your mind off everything. The idea is to enjoy feats of pure athleticism, to root for your side, to involve yourself totally in the course of a fair game, where guts and determination and skill and training are the only things that matter, where old traditions are upheld without irony or embarassment, where nobility and sportsmanship and honor and courage are virtues and not held up for ridicule.
Limbaugh mentions it from time to time: professional sports are the one place in the average person's life where a person can utterly invest himself in his passion without causing anyone any harm. Nobody looks down on the die-hard XYZ Team fan who has flags and memorabilia and special license plates and-and-and: "he really loves the [local sportsball] team."
The NFL really didn't like it very much when certain players did things. I can remember this or that player taking a knee after a touchdown in thanks to God, and that was just about the worst thing ever. But when it came to protesting America suddenly "taking a knee" during the national anthem was a protected form of self-expression rather than disrupting the game.
When you look at pro football, about 75% of the players are black. I'll stipulate that it's only natural for multi-millionaires to be sympathetic to the plight of criminals who resisted arrest, solely because they have similar skin color. But the problem is, they're bringing their politics into the game.
The fans don't want politics. They're not going to the stadium to watch XYZ Team's political demonstrations and to see which rapist's name is on the helmet guards this week. They're not there to see what political messages have been painted in the end zones. They don't tune in to see yet another tribute to Colin Kaepernick, who arguably is the idiot that started all this nonsense.
What the fans want is to see people who are literally at the top of their game play the game without injecting a bunch of irrelevant horseshit into it. Everyone stands for the national anthem, okay; some dickhead kneels during the anthem because of this-or-that reason, suddenly you're not talking about football any longer, but about the dickhead's politics. "Gee, why did Dickhead kneel during the anthem?" "Well, he said it was because of [politics]." It's irrelevant what those politics are, and I'd wager that if the politics were right-wing instead of communist the fan reaction would be largely the same.
My dad could hold forth on right-wing politics like few others, but on Christmas Day I didn't want to hear about it. Christmas is about the birth of Christ.
The people who own the teams are stuck. Professional football players do not grow on trees and they are a powerfully expensive commodity. If you can't keep good players on your team, you lose games, and that's bad all around. So owners have to let the players throw their tantrums.
The league is stuck, too, though I suspect a lot of the higher-ups in that organization are happy to see their players sticking a thumb in Uncle Sam's eye like that; probably they hate the fact that many of their fans are "rednecks" and "hicks" and not ivy-league educated elites who mouth the right opinions and vote the right way. They're just fine with the players showing their asses (metaphorically speaking) to all the Trump voters in the stands. But even so, the league can't impose behavioral rules willy-nilly, and further they can't overplay their hand.
Okay, the teams have to go to the games. The players and the owners and the NFL officials, they have to be there, too, at least some of them, and in some capacity. Moreover, the league and the teams and the owners need those games to occur. There's no point to having a team of expensive professional football players who only ever sit around and watch TV. The point of the league is to play football games, because (supposedly) it's entertaining, and they can charge people a fee for the privilege of seeing the games take place.
But the thing is? The public isn't stuck. They don't need the games.
People don't have to spend any money at all on going to see football games. They don't need to buy NFL-branded merchandise. They don't need to watch football, not in person and not via television. People got along just fine without it, and the recent panic over COVID-19 caused a big enough disruption of the annual sportsball schedule that some folks realized that they'd turned a relatively simple diversion into a colossal waste of time. They went most of a summer without baseball and everyone lived--at least, no one died of baseball withdrawal, anyway. Ditto for basketball--which already had its own problems since it was kowtowing to the communist Chinese and mooning the American audience in the process.
Football games (and sportsball games in general) are a luxury. You don't buy sports tickets when you can't make ends meet. You sell the signed Mean Joe Green jersey when you need to raise cash fast to keep a roof over your head.
...and luxuries are not necessities, by definition.
So here's what happens: the players start acting like spoiled asshats and the league and the owners go along with them...and the fans stop watching because the last fucking thing they want is YET ANOTHER GOD DAMNED LEFTIST POLITICAL LECTURE like the entire rest of television is.
You can't turn on a TV show without having this or that leftist shove his politics in your face. You can't go to the movies without having leftism crammed down your throat. Go see a show, go watch a play, go to a museum--you get leftist politics rammed into your orofices at least seventy percent of the time.
The Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl last year. Because of COVID-19, they sold just 16,000 tickets to their season opening game held at their 75,000 seat stadium. Absent any nonsense, under those circumstances, it would be a sold-out game. Tickets to that game would be a hot commodity, something you could get at a steep markup, because won the last Super Bowl and limited seating and HOLY SHIT I HAVEN'T BEEN OUTSIDE IN SIX MONTHS I WANT TO GO!
Tickets were selling below face value.
A twelve percent decline over last year's numbers with what amounts to a captive audience, people who can't go outside and have nothing else to do.
Fans pay the bills. Fans buying tickets and merchandise and watching the games on TV, those are the things that make money for the teams. Fans are the customers and they don't have to watch the games if they don't want to.
One of two things happens from here.
"What happens is the league will eventually submit to its angry fans and ban all political expression by the players." NFL says, "Okay, we know you guys have opinions and all, but you need to shut the fuck up and play or else we will all be out of a job."
Or, the NFL doesn't do that...and professional football ends up being a thing of the past, at least the way it's done now. Salaries will drop, venues will become less grand, and few will care if a team decides to pull up stakes and move to another town. At least, you won't have cities falling all over themselves to spend hundreds of millions building fancy arenas for sportsball games.
I have been told, time and time and time again--by left-leaning folks--that money is the biggest motivator for all these entertainment industry bigwigs, which is why it's impossible that this or that or the other thing could possibly have a left-wing bias. Why, Hollywood doesn't make films and TV programs that insult right-wingers! They'd never alienate half their potential audience!
...and yet they do. The mainstream media is perhaps the only industry which has managed to get away with starting from "the customer is always wrong!" "Hey, I didn't like how you portrayed Ronald Reagan in that movie." "Too bad, Hitler! Fuck you! You're lucky we didn't put a swastika on his ass and show him getting pegged by Margaret Thatcher! Hey, that'd make a great series! Get the writers on the phone!"
Because of this, then, I can easily see the NFL leadership taking an identical attitude: "Well, if those hicks and hayseeds don't like it, they're wrong anyway!" That's what NASCAR is doing, after all, and their slump predates the NFL's. When presented with evidence that the politics is driving fans away, they say, "Good! Those fans are all racist, bigoted nazis and we don't want their money!"
The fans are not "racist, bigoted nazis". They just don't want politics in their sports, is all. They vote with their feet, and everyone in the league or organization ends up with smaller paychecks.
If that's what they want, then let them. But they're killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.