We’re less than a week into the NFL preseason, which means that, right on cue and for the third year in a row, Trump is attacking NFL players for their protests of police brutality and systemic racism during the national anthem. And just as predictably, the league is frantically trying to figure out how to respond.
Time, it turns out, really is a flat circle.
The players won’t stop protesting, Trump won’t stop angrily tweeting about it, and the more Trump tweets about it, the more motivation players have to protest. What is the NFL to do?
While the league is surely paying obscene gobs of money in order to consult with a room full of rich, white public relations “experts,” their own employee, Washington cornerback Josh Norman just offered them some sage advice for free. And, in my opinion, it’s the best advice they’re ever going to receive on the matter: Don’t. Do. Anything.
“You continue to do what you do, because guess what: you have a product, and that product is fucking banking. It’s the number two product in the world outside of soccer—you cannot beat it. Those checks will keep coming regardless of what you do,” Norman told Kevin Clark of The Ringer when asked how he would respond to Trump’s attacks if he was the commissioner.
You heard right: Norman is suggesting that the best thing the NFL can do in this case is to do nothing at all. Considering every time the league issues a policy change or a milquetoast statement things only seem to get worse instead of better, it just might be a genius plan.
“I wouldn’t tell them to do a fucking thing. This guy is going to be out of office in two years. I think we’ll be OK,” Norman said. “Trust me: the accounts will be fine. I wouldn’t put emphasis on it. Because the fans are going to come. It’s not like you’ve got scabs on the field like in 1987. So what if it’s a down year? Who gives a fuck? Next year you’ll be great. It’s not going to catastrophically disappear because one guy said something.”
He’s absolutely right! There are no signs that the protests during the national anthem over police brutality are hurting the NFL’s bottom line. Yes, ratings are slightly down, but that’s true across all of broadcast television, and the NFL’s ratings are decreasing at a slower rate. And last year, the NFL made more than $8 billion in revenue for the first time in the history of the league. Eight. Billion. Dollars. Not too shabby for a “down year.”
Even if league revenue does dip slightly next year, it’s still going to be a massively profitable business. So why panic every time Trump tweets? Is the NFL really that scared of a handful of rabid Fox News viewers calling its offices to complain? Is their primary fixation to avoid being the subject of a Sean Hannity temper tantrum? Because not only is that no way to live your life or run a business, it’s also completely out of the NFL’s control; there is no good faith in this debate. Those who are still vehemently against protests during the national anthem aren’t listening to logic or reason.
The best thing the NFL could do right now is support its players. That will lead to more long-term stability in the league, and create a much more positive relationship heading into contract negotiations, which are expected to be incredibly contentious. In a few years, that will be much more important to its bottom line than the president’s Twitter screeds.
Listen to Norman, NFL. He’s right. (Mostly — I don’t quite have his confidence that this will all be over in two years, but it’s nice to think about.)