PHOENIX— The NFL is focused on making changes that will increase television viewership and bring back fans who lost interest in the product during the 2016 season.
Addressing the controversy that began with Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem wasn't part of thatprocess at the league’s annual owners meeting here.
Troy Vincent, the NFL'sexecutive vice president of football operations, said the league didn’t discuss setting a standard protocol for all players during the pregame playing of the anthem, the way U.S. Soccer did earlier this month.
“Frankly, the players have that right,” Vincent told co-host Vic Carucci and me Tuesday night on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “They’re asked (to stand), but not required.”
Kaepernick’s genuflection to make a political statement about racial injustice and inequality in America became such a mainstream hot-button topic that it was even part of the presidential election rhetoric between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Some 49ers teammates and players on other NFL teams began following suit or made other gestures like raising a fist during the anthem similar to the Black Power salute of U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the 1968 Summer Olympics.
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Although the leaguewide demonstrations began dying down at the end of the season, the negative impact on the NFL’s television ratings continued. As chronicled in this Sporting News article, nearly one-third of 1,000 American adults polled in a Rasmussen television/online survey said they were less likely to watch NFL game telecasts because of Kaepernick’s protests.
While the dip is not totally related to Kaepernick, the NFL experienced an 8 percent decline in television ratings for the 2016 season.
Kaepernick’s agent reportedly has told teams his client will stand for the anthem in 2017. But the damage to his reputation among some NFL teams stemming from his stance — and concerns about the brouhaha his signing would create — are believed two of the contributing factors for Kaepernick not having joined a new team since becoming a free agent earlier this month.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday he didn’t believe Kaeernick was being “blackballed” from the league.
“I haven’t heard that from our clubs in any way that that’s an issue,” Goodell said. “My experience in 35 years here is that our clubs make independent evaluations of players. They work hard to try and improve their teams. If they think he could help improve their team, they’re going to do that.”
Alex Marvez can be heard from 7-10 p.m. ET Wednesday on SiriusXM NFL Radio.