In a quest to discover how fans felt about the national anthem protests started by Colin Kaepernick followed by his seemingly subsequent unemployment, the NFL reportedly hired a Washington consulting firm to poll its fanbase prior to the 2017 season.
According to Charles Robinson at Yahoo Sports, the league enlisted the services of The Glover Park Group (GPG) to get fan feedback on a variety of issues surrounding the game. The results of the poll were sent to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league executives.
The GPG, which was co-founded by then-NFL communications chief Joe Lockhart, posed questions to pro football enthusiasts about the player protests, player safety, domestic violence, and specifically about Kaepernick’s peaceful protests.
Robinson’s source revealed that the survey results were divided along racial, political, and generational lines. Older, white, Republican fans generally frowned upon the anthem protests and agreed that players who participated should be penalized. However, younger black and Latino Democrats mostly supported players’ rights to protest and largely disagreed with fines and other penalties for doing so.
If the results of the survey were shared with team owners, it could mean that the poll is the smoking gun in the veteran quarterback’s collusion case against the league. Kaepernick was the only player mentioned in the survey by name. According to Robinson, league executives, the NFL players union, and Kaepernick’s legal team offered no comment on the use of the survey.
On Wednesday, the league ruled that teams whose players who are on the field during the national anthem will be fined if they participate in any form of protest. Appearing to offer a compromise for those who still feel strongly about their rights to demonstrate on the field, the NFL has given players the option to remain in the locker room during the pre-game ceremony. Commissioner Goodell issued a statement about the decision emphasizing a desire to place the focus back on football.
“We believe today’s decision will keep our focus on the game and the extraordinary athletes who play it — and on our fans who enjoy it,” Goodell said.
The Hill reported that the league’s decision is having the opposite effect on the players. After vowing to end their demonstrations during the 2018 season, many have taken the new measure personally and are discussing alternatives to taking a knee.
There are reportedly some cracks in the league’s wall of solidarity on the issue as well. San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York abstained on the vote while New York Jets chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson told Newsday that he will pay the fines if his players want to protest.
“I do not like imposing any club-specific rules,” Johnson said in part. “If somebody [on the Jets] takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players… There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines… There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions.”