ESPN host Jemele Hill is back on the air after calling President Trump a "white supremacist" who has surrounded himself with "other white supremicists" — remarks that earned her a reprimand, but not a suspension, from the network.
The Twitter-taunting and subsequent fallout comes as the sports network's ratings have taken a significant hit over the last year, starting with players' social justice protests at pre-game festivities.
Both the TV networks and the NFL are paying the penalty.
As of July 2017, ESPN's ratings already dropped 9 percent compared to the same time period last year. Add that to an already bruising 2016 — in November 2016 alone, more than 600,000 subscribers dropped the network.
Viewership for the entire NFL is down 14 percent this year, according to Pivotal Research. It represents an eight-year low. Last year, ratings fell 9 percent.
Advertising spending is also down. The NFL is experiencing the worst advanced ad sales in a decade. Not since the recession started in 2008 have revenues been this dismal.
CBS' Les Moonves claims the lower ratings, and thereby falling revenues, are due to this year's hurricanes.
A storm of politics, maybe.
Ratings began to slide last year as then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem, which set off a contagion of other players in the NFL who chose to follow suit with similar game-time protests.
A recent J.D. Power survey shows that the national anthem protests are directly to blame for the drop in ratings. The group surveyed a stunning 9,200 fans (a sample of 1,000 is usually used in political polling), and 26 percent of them said they had turned the games off due to the national protests alone.
Since the protests began, the NFL hasn't been able to contain their players nor the damage caused by their political diatribes. It comes at a time when other media are experiencing the same political outbursts and subsequent drop in ratings.
The Emmy Awards on Sunday night got political from the opening number and as a result, tied with last year's program for its lowest ratings ever.
The one person who could normally stop the bleeding is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who organized the league's crackdown on domestic violence in the wake of the Ray Rice video showing him clocking his then-fiancee in a hotel elevator. Goodell realized the crisis of confidence it was creating and held a press conference pledging, "We will get our house in order."
But Goodell has his hands full now with his own contract negotiation. His contract is up in 2019 and he's fighting to stay on as commissioner during a tumultuous time, while at the same time asking for a pay increase. That's a tall order, even for Goodell.
Whether the NFL can get its house in order and contain the political outburst remains to be seen.
If they can, Americans are a forgiving people; they'll come back to the pastime they've known and loved for more than 100 years.
However, if they can't keep their players in line, the NFL risks losing millions upon millions of dollars and worse, the trust of the public.
After all, you can only offend your customers so long before they go elsewhere.
So, can the NFL and sports networks regain the trust of their viewers, or will they fumble?
Only time will tell.
Until then, players would be wise to shut up and play while they are still gainfully employed and still have what's left of their audience.
Jennifer Kerns (@JenKernsUSA) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. A GOP communications strategist, she served as spokeswoman for the California Republican Party, recalls in Colorado, and California's Prop. 8. Previously, she served as a writer for the 2016 U.S. presidential debates for Fox News.
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