The Trump presidency has been a test for much of corporate America, but the issue facing the NFL is uniquely complicated. As Marc Ganis, a sports business consultant who has worked with more than 20 NFL teams, told me, there are a lot of Americans, including NFL fans, who agree with Trump—at least in principle. “They see these players make a great deal of money and get a great deal of adulation,” he said. “They’re playing a profession they voluntarily undertake and their lifestyles are based on sacrifices that others made. They don’t want to see them disrespect the flag.”
Who then does the league owe its first allegiance to? The players who provide the entertainment, risking their physical and mental health, or the paying fans who prefer their leisure time isn’t tainted by real world concerns. Moreover, there is a stark racial dividing line between these interest groups. I’ve touted these numbers before, but the demographics paint the league’s Trump problem in stark terms. According to Reuters, more than 83 percent of NFL fans are white and they are more than 20 percent more likely to be Republicans than Democrats. All but one owner is white, too. Eighty percent of the players, meanwhile, are black. And if Trump continues to antagonize players, they will respond. “Let’s take away the one thing that a black man can do,” tweeted Green Bay Packers tight end Martellus Bennett Saturday afternoon. “That’ll set em straight. Naw bruh. We diverse. We aren’t just field niggas anymore.” Added Edwards: “The more white versus black Trump can make it, the happier he is,” Edwards said.