Football (illustration)
Football (illustration) Thinkstock

President Trump lashed out at the sports news giant ESPN on Friday and blamed the network’s declining ratings on the growing politicization of professional sports.

Over the past year and a half, sports broadcasts have suffered a sustained drop in ratings, due in part, a new poll shows, to high-profile political protests by players like NFL star Colin Kaepernick or the apparent partisanship of broadcasters like ESPN.

After years of explosive growth, the NFL experienced a sudden drop in ratings in 2016, a development which became one of the most talked about sports stories of the year.

On average, viewership of NFL games declined 9 percent during the regular season compared to the previous year, with a 6 percent decline during the playoffs.

A new poll commissioned by Fox News suggests that the ongoing saga of players boycotting the national anthem is a major culprit in the NFL’s sinking ratings. The poll found that 17% of Americans were less interested in football due to the national anthem protests, compared to 10% who faulted too many penalties for their disinterest.

A survey done in July reached similar conclusions, finding that 26% of fans stopped watching football due to the national anthem protests led by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The story of the NFL's falling ratings is part of a larger debate taking place in the United States over the impact liberal politics has on sports fans.

On Friday, President Donald Trump blamed sports behemoth ESPN's alleged liberal bent for their subscriber losses. The network has lost 150,000 subscribers in the last 4 months alone, and its falling revenue is blamed for their layoffs of more than 100 on-air reporters, editors, and other talent in May.

Trump tweeted that "ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth."

Trump had been engaged in a feud with ESPN ever since anchor Jemele Hill tweeted that "Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists." The Trump administration demanded that she be fired - White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders deemed the tweet "highly inappropriate," and urged the network to "take action".

Under fire, ESPN president John Skipper slammed Hill in an internal memo to employees Friday, writing that "we need to remind ourselves that we are a journalistic organization and that we should not do anything that undermines that position."

"We had a violation of those standards in recent days and our handling of this is a private matter. As always, in each circumstance, we look to do what is best for our business.”

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