A week after many linked arm-in-arm with players in a show of solidarity with them in response to remarks from President Donald Trump, NFL owners are harboring significant concerns about how the business of football could be impacted by the ongoing culture war over the protests during the National Anthem, according to several ownership sources.
The country remains split over the divisive topic and Trump appears inclined to continue Tweeting and talking about it, stirring fears amid owners about the possible divide growing with an international spotlight on how players handle the anthem. No matter what they say or do at this point, given the nature of this issue, some segment of their fanbases could be offended and there are very real concerns about people staying away from games in person or on television.
"It's definitely fair to say that owners are on edge about the current climate," said one league source who was in contact with several ownership groups this week. "They will be watching the ratings very closely and there is a worry that a segment of NFL fans want these games to be an escape from the everything else that is happening in the world and politics, and that they'll find something else to do on Sunday's if that's no longer the case.
"No sponsors have pulled out yet, but there have been a lot of private conversations with them at the team level and the league level. Some sponsors have concerns about the ratings moving forward, and also about the idea that some fans are getting turned off by the protests. The owners have been put in a box here and they're in a position where they're going to get hammered by someone no matter what they do."
Additionally, the NFL is under heavy scrutiny right now from military and veteran's groups, at the league and team level, with offices inundated with phone calls and emails voicing concerns over the anthem protests. And while owners are worried about Trump stirring up more fans to cast aside the NFL, the fan and sponsor reaction are of primary concern with league officials unsure about the response this weekend.