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Volume 25 No. 89
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Controversy Behind Protests During National Anthem Dissipates As NFL Season Ends

Week 17 for the NFL was an "oddly quiet end to an incredibly loud season," according to John Branch of the N.Y. TIMES. There were "fewer than 20 NFL players kneeling or sitting for the national anthem," and TV networks "barely showed them." The AP listed President Trump's response to the protests as the country’s "biggest sports story of the year ... although it had little to do with sports." What "began as a debate over the state of the oppression of people of color became knotted into an argument about patriotism and the military." But much of the heat has "dissipated." Now the top sports story of last year "already feels like something that has come and gone -- or is going, at least, perhaps just smoldering until it flares again" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/2). DEADLINE's Bruce Haring wrote no matter how the "hoopla of the playoffs and the Super Bowl may disguise it, the league is in trouble, based on its track record of negativity for the season." TV ratings are down, "sponsors and advertisers are worried, player concerns are largely unmollified, and attendance in many cities is spotty." Haring: "No matter how they dress up the situation, every key indicator of fan interest -- which is the true driver of the league -- has an arrow pointing down" (, 12/31).

HAVE WE SEEN THE BEST YEARS? YAHOO FINANCE's Daniel Roberts wrote under the header, "The NFL Is Not Dying, But It May Be Plateauing." Most of the "headwinds against the NFL right now are not" the fault of Commissioner Roger Goodell. Most are "not even really the NFL’s fault, either." They are "macro business factors that the biggest sports league in the country cannot stop, try as it might." Roberts: "The biggest question about the major American pro sports leagues in the next few years will be: For how much longer can the NFL remain the most popular league?" The Super Bowl next month will be a "good indicator," since the TV audience for the game is "generally not dependent on what happened in the regular season" (, 12/30).

LAST HOPE: The GLOBE & MAIL's Cathal Kelly wrote the Patriots are the "last solidly marketable storyline" the NFL has going. The league's goal for Super Bowl LII is to "get New England there. ... no matter what." This would be a "very bad time for the Super Bowl to take its first ratings dive in, well, ever." That would "turn a hapless year into a genuine crisis." Kelly: "The best way to ensure that doesn't happen? Belichick, Brady and the Patriots." Fans know who they are and would "probably be willing to take a few hours out of a Sunday five weeks from now to watch them lose." Kelly: "More than probably." That is the "psychology on which the NFL is resting its hopes to salvage the year" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/1).

LOOKING TOWARD THE PLAYOFFS: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay writes the "most fascinating development" in the NFC playoffs -- and "probably the playoffs as a whole" is the presence of the Vikings, which hold the No. 2 seed. Gay: "I really think this could be the year when it actually happens: an NFL team gets to host a home Super Bowl" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/2). Meanwhile, in Boston, Ben Volin noted one indication of "how strange" the '17 season was is that this is the "first time in the Super Bowl era that the Cowboys, Giants, Redskins, Packers, and 49ers all missed the playoffs." The last time that happened was in '64 (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/31).