You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

No, Colin Kapernick isn’t responsible for the NFL’s precipitous ratings drop.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty

At a rally on Sunday, Donald Trump tried to solve one of the central mysteries of our time: Why are bees dying at an alarming rate? Why aren’t people watching football games anymore? Monday Night Football is down 22 percent through the seventh week of the season, Sunday Night Football has fallen 19 percent, and Thursday Night Football is reaching 17 percent fewer viewers than it did a year ago. Trump gave two explanations:

This is deeply funny in the way that Trump’s ant-sized attention span often is. It’s also typically self-serving: People aren’t watching football anymore because they’re watching Trump and also because the country is falling apart (which only Trump can fix). It’s convenient to blame Kaepernick for the NFL’s rating dips, but there’s no evidence at all that it’s true.

But Trump isn’t alone. In a recent poll, flagged by Drudge and others, 56 percent of fans surveyed blamed Kaepernick’s protests for the decline in ratings. This poll has been circulated as proof that Kaepernick is to blame for the ratings dip, but what it really reveals is that NFL fans think Kaepernick is to blame, which says a lot about NFL fans and what they’re being told by pundits.

We really don’t know why people aren’t watching football this season. The fact that an election is happening may actually be a pretty good explanation. It’s certainly more plausible than blaming Kaepernick.

But the best explanation for the NFL’s ratings decline is that the NFL is garbage right now. The Thursday night slot has always featured truly dispiriting levels of play, but the season so far has been full of blowouts and penalties. (It’s also featured two ties, including a 6-6 Monday Night Football game.) So, in one sense, Colin Kaepernick is to blame, but only because he’s a player in a league that suddenly has a quality control problem.