Beyond the Bison: NFL corporate sponsors speak out

Brittany Willwerth, Senior Writer

A majority of sports fans have seen, or at least heard of, the controversy of NFL players kneeling during the singing of the National Anthem prior to kickoff. The kneeling phenomenon, which surfaced just last year, signifies athletes’ attempt to bring attention to police brutality and racial injustice.

With some considering such actions anti-American, President Donald Trump soon involved himself in the controversy by making statements condemning the actions of the players. Several NFL team owners, including some who had donated significantly to Trump’s campaign, responded by offering their support for these protests.

As billions of dollars in sponsorships are negotiated on a daily basis, many league corporate sponsors have accordingly spoken out about the issue. A few firms released statements this September, including Ford Motor Company and Under Armor Inc., the latter of which stated in a Tweet, “We stand for the flag and by our athletes for free speech, expression and a unified America.”

Recently, Papa John’s announced that it is reevaluating its partnership with the NFL.

“We have to evaluate our reliance on partnerships that are TV-focused, like the NFL,” Papa John’s chief marketing officer Brandon Rhoten said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.

Additionally, earlier last month Budweiser released a statement: “We have many long-term sports partnerships, including our NFL sponsorship, and while we may not agree on everything, we still believe in the power of sport to bring people together and overcome their differences.”

With the NFL earning just around $1.25 billion dollars from sponsorship partners due to the large national audience it draws in, companies such as those discussed are seeking to maintain positive perceptions of their businesses amidst the controversy. In order to achieve this, they need to meticulously find the balance between optimal profits and associating themselves with other corporations.

So, what do you think? Should companies separate themselves from an association currently fogged with uneasiness? Or continue their partnerships in an attempt to maintain exposure across a national stage?

The answer probably is not as easy as it may appear. With money, politics, and power all involved, little room is left for definite answers. Sports, especially football, serve to bring people together, although at what point are we tearing them apart? How much longer can we stand… or kneel for this?

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