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Why the NFL is losing viewers

Credit: astrosystem via FotoliaThe NFL is still far and away the most popular sport in America. Its weekly viewership averages more viewers than last year's World Series and bested the Emmys by roughly 5.4 million sets of eyes. However, the 16.7 million people who tune in each week is down about eleven percent from last season, and that's made some around the league—and even more among the various TV stations that pay the NFL a collective seven billion dollars annually—a bit concerned.

Unfortunately for the league and its broadcasters, there doesn't appear to be an easy fix. As Neal Pilson, the former CBS executive and the founder of Pilson Communications, told The Washington Post's Mark Maske, "We don't really know, I can't give you a specific reason why the NFL's ratings are down . . . You have to look at five, six, seven things to figure it out. It's a confluence of multiple negative factors."

Among those factors are the litany of choices viewers have whenever they turn on their televisions, the election coverage and debates that have garnered an increasing amount of attention, and the lack of great draws, be it because of the retirement of stars like Peyton Manning or down years for the teams in some of the country's biggest markets. And while some of those factors will abate over time—the World Series and the election will both end well before the football season does—it's unclear how the NFL's prospects will look going forward.

The league will get its money, and it remains the most popular draw for American sports fans. NFL and TV executives don't have to worry about that changing any time soon. But whether the early results from this year are the start of a new trend or just a blip on the budget reports is unclear, and it's likely to stay that way for a while longer. There are simply too many factors at work for a clear and easy answer.

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Arnold Palmer and Jose Fernandez: a legacy of joy

Credit: Debby Wong, Alan Diaz via APSunday was a day of mourning for many. Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer and rising star pitcher Jose Fernandez both lost their lives before the afternoon came to a close, the former due to complications from heart problems and the latter in a tragic boating accident. And while the two could not be more different in many ways, the shared date at the end of their tombstones is not the only thing these two figures had in common.

Palmer, who passed away at the age of eighty-seven, was one of the most beloved golfers the game has ever known. His ability to relate to people from all walks of life and his genuine appreciation for those who supported him helped usher in the golden age of the sport. The US Golf Association described him as their "greatest ambassador" who "inspired generations to love golf by sharing his competitive spirit . . . The game is indeed better because of him, and in so many ways, will never be the same."

Baseball had similar hopes for Fernandez, who turned twenty-four in July. He was a Cuban immigrant who tried three times to defect to America before finally finding success on a fourth fateful journey, in which he also saved his mother from drowning. He spent two months in prison following one failed attempt, but said that his transition to life in America as a fifteen-year-old who spoke no English was far more difficult. As ESPN commentator and Miami Herald columnist Dan LeBatard describes, his was a story of success that gave generations of fans, and especially those of Cuban descent, hope and a reason to care about a team that had frequently betrayed their emotional investment.

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I Was Wrong About Terrance Williams

Credit: Michael Ainsworth via APLike Dallas Cowboys fans around the world, I was yelling at the television yesterday. As you know if you follow NFL football at all, Cowboys wide receiver Terrence Williams caught a pass from Dak Prescott with time running out. If he had cut right and gone out of bounds, he would have stopped the clock in time for Dan Bailey to try a game-winning field goal. But he cut left, was tackled, and the game ended.

I told my wife that I'd never seen a more bone-headed play. Junior high football players know better, I ranted. How could he possibly not know to get out of bounds? Dez Bryant was standing in front of him, pointing at the sideline as he turned back into the field. I was there with him in spirit.

The social media universe has been even harsher than I was. I won't repeat what is being said about the beleaguered wide receiver today.

But here's the problem: none of us listened to Williams's explanation before we rendered our verdict. And it turns out, he was trying to do the right thing under the circumstances.

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Colin Kaepernick Can Sit Because Others Stood

Credit: Ben Margot via AP

He can sit because others were willing to stand. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has sat during the national anthem in all three preseason games and said he plans to continue to do so until he sees real change when it comes to racial injustices. The figurative rockets red glare and bombs bursting through the air prove that there is still fighting going on.

Waiting two weeks before speaking out, Kaepernick said, "I'm going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me this is something that has to change. When there's significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it's supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it's supposed to, I'll stand."

Joining the Founders of the country and framers of the Constitution, Kaepernick said, “This country stands for liberty, freedom, justice for all.” However, assessing the current situation, the millionaire 49ers quarterback noted, “And it’s not happening for all right now.”

Kaepernick joins countless others around the country that are no longer satisfied with the status quo. Their actions disrupt the emotional equilibrium of the country, from political party conventions to now the sacred football stadiums. Their protests create a suffocating sense that something needs to be done. But this is accompanied by a hesitant fear of what might be done. And the line that separates reacting appropriately and overreacting detrimentally is far smaller than desired and usually exceeded because of desire.

To silence their voice is to relegate our veterans’ actions as partially futile, dying for rights individuals cannot use. To encourage their sit-ins is to dishonor those who gave their lives for their rights.

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Wayde van Niekerk’s Vibrant Christian Faith

Credit: David Goldman via AP

Running from lane 8 is never easy. You're all the way out in front of the rest of the field and have no clue of your position until the final 100 meters. You can't see any of your fellow racers for most of the race, which is a huge psychological disadvantage. Running from lane 1 is equally difficult, but at least you can see everyone else that you're trying to beat. When you're running from lane 8, you're running blind, and the only way you can win is to focus on running your race.

That's exactly what Wayde van Niekerk did Sunday night, smashing Michael Johnson's seventeen-year world record in the 400 meters with an astonishing 43.03. In a night where Usain Bolt's electric 100 meter win dominated the headlines, van Niekerk's performance was just as incredible as Bolt's unprecedented three straight golds in the premier track and field event. NBC cameras panned to the 100 meter field, huddled around a monitor watching van Niekerk's race, and their reactions said everything. Bolt himself looked like everyone else watching, hands over his mouth, gasping "Wow!"

Two phases of van Niekerk's race stood out to me. First, the way he attacked the backstretch. It's not hard to get out of the blocks well, because everyone's adrenaline is high, and the sound of the gun almost propels you itself for the first 100 meters. The second 100, though, is where most runners relax and get into the race. Not van Niekerk. He ran his fastest split in this part of the race, clocking a mind-boggling 9.8, to bring his 200 meter total to 20.5, not far from the best in the world in that distance. Simply put, his first 200 meters were blazing.

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