Women in Football: What NFL needs to get right to keep them as fans

As part of Yahoo Sports’ ”Women In Football” series, we sought out women who consider themselves major fans of the sport, the NFL and various teams in the league. We empaneled 10 of them, who responded to our call on Twitter to participate in this project.

According to the NFL, roughly 45 percent of its fans are women, and it would like that number to be higher. We’re seeing more girls playing the sport, which is one way to get and retain followers. Last month, a 16-year-old female quarterback in Florida threw a touchdown pass, believed to be the first scoring pass from a girl in the state’s prep history.

If the conversations we had with these 10 women are any indication, the NFL, despite its considerable ratings and record profits, isn’t doing enough to keep those female fans. Or, maybe, any of its fans. From how it handles domestic violence incidents to concussions and CTE, there are problems.

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

But the women also acknowledge it’s a complicated relationship – there’s a lot to love despite their real concerns.

We asked the women the same base questions; their answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Our panel

* Kristen Mori, 21, from Harvard, Ill. and a New England Patriots fan
* Mandi Kane, 33, from Las Vegas and a Pittsburgh Steelers fan
* Joyce Lee, mid-30s, from Braintree, Massachusetts, who is a Patriots fan
* Kimberly Johnson, 47, from Atlanta, who is a Falcons season-ticket holder
* Dakota Damschroder, 22, from Mechanichsburg, Pennsylvania., who is a Cleveland Browns and Patriots fan
* Reeta Hubbard, 38, from Baltimore, who is a Ravens fan
* Molly Jasinski, 29, from West Allis, Wisconsin, who roots for the Green Bay Packers
* Erin Reeves, 35, from Framingham, Massachusetts, who is also a Patriots fan
* Kymbrye Mooney, 24, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who is a Jacksonville Jaguars fan
* Mary Hardin, 55, from Los Angeles, is a Patriots fan

Q: Do you think the NFL cares about its female fans?

Mori: I think it cares about its viewership and its ratings, which I think – female fans are such a large proportion of that, they have to care in some capacity, but I think a lot of it is reactive rather than proactive, so sort of.

Kane: That’s a thing I go back and forth on; I think it’s gotten better. Everything came to a head in 2014 with Ray Rice. It became clear at that point there was a problem with how the league was holding their players accountable for how they were treating women and by not doing that, they were alienating a huge part of the fan base. I think the league definitely made some improvements with public service announcements and really stepping up with holding players accountable but I don’t necessarily think it’s perfect. I will say, the time that was really, really hard for me was when Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault. I think these problems have been happening for years and years and now there’s the realization that women are a huge part of the fan base and they’re spending money, and as their children play football, women are a huge part of that decision.

Joyce Lee

Lee: They care about the money coming from female fans more than they care about the issues or the topics we’re interested in or want them to address. I always feel like there’s a social responsibility for corporations – you can see these days in the news, topics about diversity, inclusion, women, minorities, environment, sustainability, all these things that are social issues these days. I don’t see that coming a lot, not just from the NFL, but Major League Baseball, NBA, they do a lot of lip service.

Breast cancer awareness, we wear pink on Mother’s Day (in MLB) – those are great, but they’re not enough. They use that kind of event or day to get more business out of it, and sell pink hats or pink bats. Although I’m a huge fan, I feel like they’re not doing much… I’m in a bit of a dilemma: I’m a fan, I love the sport, but I don’t feel they’re doing the proper response, not being a responsible corporate organization.

Johnson: No. I don’t think NFL cares about its female fans. That’s my short answer. I think they try to care, in that, you know, I’ve seen an increase in paraphernalia for female fans, but I think it stops there. As it concerns issues for female fans they really don’t do enough, and if you look at commercials that show during games, they’re still, in my opinion, very geared toward male fans. When you look at local radio, things of that nature, as many female reporters that are out there, as many women that love sports, I think it’s still lacking. So I think they’re still behind the curve in recognizing and appreciating female fans.

Damschroder: I’ve been thinking about that a lot, trying to find a good answer and I don’t think I can say either way. My freshman thesis for my honors program was about commercials targeted toward NFL fans and whether they’re sexist. Five years ago, it seemed like they were pushing to target female fans in terms of merchandise; I don’t feel like they have done that recently. I don’t feel like they’re actively trying, but I don’t feel they’re alienating either.

Hubbard: No. A few years ago on Twitter I did a survey and I asked, ‘Did women think that football was geared towards them?’ It was related to the fan festivals they did for women; I believe when I asked about it, fewer than a dozen teams had events for women. All (respondents) said no, they loved it as much as guys but it wasn’t geared toward women or had events for women.

Jasinski: I think they care about giving lip service to female fans; I don’t think on a grand scale they genuinely do. I think a lot of the things they do to acknowledge and incorporate female fans are stereotypical. Like Breast Cancer Awareness month in October – that screams more of a marketing campaign and a chance to sell pink apparel to women who are moderately into football, and I don’t think it’s out of the genuine goodness of their heart… The way that they approach the whole handling – I know domestic violence affects both males and females but women have a much stronger reaction when those cases come up because so often it’s the women being affected and the way they handle those cases is flimsy at best.

Erin Reeves (middle) is loyal to the Patriots. (Special to Yahoo Sports)

Reeves: I do. I think they’re in business to make money, and my money is going to buy a shirt just like the next guy’s. The domestic violence stuff sort of makes it a little tough to 100 percent say yes they care, but I think overall they do.

Mooney: I personally don’t think so. Especially with the number of (crimes against women) players are committing and how miniscule their punishments are, you’re saying that player is more important than women are because he makes the league money. Women are seeing that and it shows they don’t have much respect for female fans. They really don’t feminize gear for female fans, with gear in regular styles in a women’s cut; not everyone wants pink or glittery. I probably have more female friends who are fans than males who are.

Hardin: I don’t. I don’t think the league cares about its fans, period. I don’t know if there’s a difference in gender. They take their fans for granted anyway, and they don’t even really register that women are watching. I don’t think they’re doing anything to get female fans, and they’re driving the fans that they do have away.

Q: What is your reaction to cases like Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson, Josh Brown, and, more recently, Ezekiel Elliott, and how the NFL has handled them?

Mori: Greg Hardy and Josh Brown definitely bothered me more than the rest of them… I think objectively Hardy is not a very good person and the fact that he still had a job kind of irritated me. I always draw the comparison to Ray Rice – I don’t condone at all what he did, but I think he showed remorse, and Hardy didn’t. What made me most mad about Josh Brown was that his coaches and the owner of the Giants seemed to cover that up [Brown’s now ex-wife, whom he admittedly abused multiple times, called NFL security at the league hotel during the 2016 Pro Bowl when a drunken Brown was pounding on the door of her room; the Giants signed Brown to a contract extension a couple of months later], and when the press got too big, that’s when they had to do something. I don’t think they did it because they care about domestic violence; I think they care about their reputation.

Kane: It’s definitely gotten better and there’s more attention being paid to it [since the Rice case], because I think there’s a lot of equity in public opinion. I work in public relations, I’m a publicist, and I think a lot of it is just p.r. in a lot of ways. I realize this is idealistic, but I think the league should have more ownership for training these men on consent and violence, and a lot of it really should be done in college and before that. I think this has been a problem in sports, particularly football, at all levels … I think it’s definitely a culture problem, and it’s not exclusive to the NFL.

Lee: The owners need to do something. Profitability is important, don’t get me wrong, but as a sports organization, you cannot say everything has to come out with a dollar sign attached to it. The NFL represents the United States pretty much; as part of the American values, maybe a certain percentage of everyone’s profits should go into a fund and donate to a charity that most people care about, and maybe on the broadcast, they can deliver a message; I know after the domestic violence incidents they had [PSAs]; they should do more than that. The ad is lip service in my eyes.

Johnson: It angers me, but I think it is a reflection of the world as a whole. I love football, I love it as a source of entertainment. I equate it to other sources of entertainment, like music and movies, and I think all of those areas fall short of taking care of women. So it’s frustrating, and if my team were to employ a domestic abuser, I would really go in. I think that’s where my voice can be heard, but I feel as a whole the world is a symbol of patriarchy and misogyny, and I think the NFL is a reflection of that.

Damschroder: Right now, I don’t have as much of a reaction anymore. The first big one, Ray Rice, I had such a harsh reaction, when he first got the two-game suspension I remember feeling so angry, and when the video came out, I feel like the league did a decent job at the time of trying to course-correct. When Josh Brown got his one game, it was like, isn’t your baseline six games? [In the wake of the criticism the league received because of how it initially handled Rice, the NFL instituted a rule within the personal conduct policy that players accused of domestic violence on an intimate partner or child would receive a six-game minimum suspension.] A lot has happened to desensitize me, but it’s definitely tiring. It’s like, what now, what next? Because it’s a behemoth, as one individual fan, what can I do?

Hubbard: The NFL has no idea what it wants to do with domestic violence. The reason why Ray Rice was ultimately suspended and then essentially blackballed is because there was video. You’ll have teams say he wasn’t good anymore the year before, his last year he wasn’t that good, but there were health reasons. They don’t want the baggage of a guy that was seen [striking a woman]. We’ve seen guys like Greg Hardy get another chance. With Zeke [Elliott] they’re trying to make a statement, but it’s hard to believe it when just last year was the Josh Brown situation, when he admitted what he did to his wife. I would like for them to take it seriously, but right now they don’t have the consistency or the people to believe that’s their genuine intention.

Jasinski: Because of how extreme the reaction was with Ray Rice, everything since then has been them trying to cover their butts. I feel included in the football experience because of the people I surround myself with on game day and just having so many fans in my area, the games at Lambeau there’s definitely a good amount of female fans there, but in terms of the league-wide approach, I don’t feel the NFL, the corporate entity, really cares.

Mooney: I’m an LSU fan for college football, and a few years ago when Jameis Winston was still in college, his story was dominant [Winston was accused of rape while at Florida State], and they pushed it aside because it was getting close to bowl season, they didn’t want him to be distracted, and to me that showed everyone – males, females – because he has talent that’s more important. … It’s become so prevalent in sports these days and it blows my mind how many cases we’re seeing crop up and what little leagues are doing to handle them in the appropriate manner, and get justice for the victims that they deserve.

(AP)

Hardin: As a survivor of deflate-gate, I have very little trust in what the league is saying or doing, and I can’t even swallow the Ezekiel Elliott stuff [this interview was conducted just before the NFL suspended Elliott for six games for a 2016 domestic violence allegation in which he was not charged by police; reportedly, the NFL’s chief investigator on the case recommended that Elliott not be suspended, but the league did not take her recommendation. Elliott is playing as he appeals the decision in court]. …It makes the whole situation of domestic violence worse.

Q: Do you pay attention to news articles on women making inroads in the NFL, such as Sarah Thomas, the first full-time female official, Jen Welter, a training camp assistant coach for the Arizona Cardinals a couple of years ago, or Katie Sowers, the San Francisco 49ers’ new receivers coach?

Mori: I think it’s great – I personally want to work in sports when I graduate [she’s a senior at Purdue University], so it’s promising for me, and it’s a really good step in the right direction or the league. It’s good to have female voices; maybe it can help the league see how to better handle things like domestic violence.

Kane: Absolutely. One of my best friends is Katie Hnida, and we met at the University of New Mexico [Hnida is the first woman to score in an NCAA Division I-A football game, as a kicker for the Lobos] because we’re both sexual assault survivors. I’ve always been a proponent of any achievement of a woman in the sport. Fortunately these moments are becoming more frequent, and hopefully at some point we’ll see female players [in the NFL]. I don’t know when that day is coming, but I’m sure it is.

Lee: I pay attention, at least to the headlines, and think, ‘That’s great, that’s a good starting point’, but I’m interested to see how women coaches handle male players. I’m interested to see that, how they prepare themselves – both sides – because it’s hard. In the NFL world, it’s so male-dominated, they have what we call cultural bias. …Having a female coach or female ref is great, but so what? What else can you do? If you use those females as lip service, to say, ‘Oh, we’re checking a box to embrace gender diversity’, then so what? What’s the big deal?

Johnson: Oh yes, and I appreciate them. I do pay attention, but I don’t think it’s enough. A local sports guy one day said, the Falcons are in the playoffs and he’s getting calls from women who are asking men for tickets. In my section, there are two rows of women who buy our tickets. I’d really love if the NFL ran the demographics on who buys season tickets, that’s why I say they’re behind the curve. Things like that I do pay attention, when teams have women in their front office, but I think as a whole they have a ways to go.

Damschroder: I try to, but one thing that struck me is that [more recent hires, Stowers and Kathryn Smith with Buffalo last year] they’re not really blown up as stories. The official, I paid a lot of attention to her and her first preseason game was against the Rams. But if they’re not blowing up as big stories that makes it harder to follow, but it makes me encouraged too because they’re not making a big deal. Not shining too much of a spotlight helps to normalize it. It makes it easier when there isn’t a spotlight to do their jobs, to help women be seen as equals in the locker rooms and coaching staff because they’re not being followed around as much by media.

Reeta Hubbard, a Ravens fan, takes issue with Colin Kaepernick’s unemployment. (Special to Yahoo Sports)

Hubbard: Absolutely. I don’t know if it’s being a feminist, but I’m always pro-women, especially in male-dominated fields. I’ve very excited, elated, and I want to celebrate them. I think even though we shouldn’t consider it a big deal because women are just as capable, I do wish we made more of a big deal because we can follow these women to see how well they do. The Cardinals players have said they enjoyed having [Welter]; it’s not that we can’t do it. People find it hard to believe that we can do those things.

Jasinski: I’m definitely very excited when I hear of women moving up the chain; there’s no reason to believe that a woman couldn’t understand the game of football as well as a guy, so I think it’s great. It would be nice to see more women in the front office because more women in front offices when it comes to these issues like domestic violence and even beyond that, having more than just male voices in the room, having diverse voices in the room, that makes a difference and that can help front offices. I think a lot of the way football is handled, especially in front offices, is very old school, doing-it-as-it’s-always-been-done type of stuff.

Reeves: I do. I’m an NBA fan too, and the Spurs employ a woman coach [Becky Hammon]. I love that, and I hope things are trending that way. I’m a tennis coach in a male-dominated profession, in tennis there are so many male coaches, and I’ve been approached about coaching college teams because they need more women. When I see those headlines, I love to see teams employ and empower different women.

Mooney: When I was in seventh grade, my older brother played football and I gave him so much grief because he hated practice because they had to run. I teased him so much he said, ‘I bet you wouldn’t make it through one season’ and I said, ‘Fine, I’ll play.’ My mom turned around and her eyes were as big as saucers and she said, ‘What? You’re going to play football?’ [She played defensive tackle.] All the boys on my team hated me, they were like, there’s a girl on the team, that’s so weird, do we have to be nice to her. When my parents were kids, my dad said if a girl wanted to play football, there was no way. Now there are female wrestling leagues, all kinds of different facets – coaching, reffing, so many ways to get involved, and it’s such a positive message that these women are working incredibly hard, to be living in this generation is amazing. It’s super empowering.

Hardin: I definitely pay attention. I like it; I wish there were more of it. I can’t see why women can’t be coaches. From everything I’ve read, it seems like the guys really respond to the women that have been coaches; they’ve all been positive. It makes me think if I had been such the crazy fan that I am 30 years ago that I would have done something different.

Q: Do you think the NFL is doing enough when it comes to concussion awareness, treatment of concussions and traumatic brain injury?

Mori: I think the NFL does not care about concussions at all. They’ve made helmets that absorb the hit better, they say there are current ones that can distribute the hit around the head, and I think that they’re making good progress on this. I hope and I think it’s possible to have football and safety at the same time. I’d hate to see 100 years from now football is gone because of concussions, but I really don’t think they care about their players’ long-term health.

Kane: It’s hard to say. It’s something that I don’t know a ton about, but I think the one thing that has happened is the best thing: the ownership and transparency. Saying, yeah, this is a problem. Just to get to this point too a lot, and I think that we live in an age where you can’t lie to people anymore. It’s remarkable, especially being in p.r., but people still try. It’s amazing how many p.r. crises could be avoided if you told the truth to begin with. So I think there’s definitely been improvements but I think there’s definitely a lot of work to be done.

Lee: No. Maybe I’m not aware of it, but I would say there are two things they can do: one, the equipment, the helmets, the rules, the hardware. Improve the helmet design so they get more padding, protect their heads, or from a regulation perspective, maybe [incur] a huge penalty, the team gets a penalty, and use that money to set up a fund to do more research on concussions. The price is education, again. Do the players understand the consequences? Do they know enough? Do they know how to protect themselves? Maybe have them get a CT scan every year.

Damschroder: It’s never going to be 100 percent because of the nature of the sport. I do feel at the very least like there’s more awareness about it. The biggest deal for me would be to emphasize to players this is what your future will be like. No matter how many rules you put into place, players will have head-to-head collisions. I do feel the league has gotten better monitoring them, there are better rules in place, but players need to have a full understanding of what their future might hold in terms of health and illness and then make an informed decision on whether they want to play or not. College players too. You can replace body parts; you can’t replace your brain.

Jasinski: I’m sure I’m not the only one, but I was not aware of how serious of an issue it was until I watched the movie “Concussion” – that was eye-opening to me, and the research I did after I saw the movie. Again, I think this is another area that the league office does a lot of lip service and say they’re making improvements, and those independent spotters at the games, but it’s proven those don’t always work. I’m only 29, but I remember listening to commentators say, “he really got his bell rung on that play,” and now, seeing it, watching that Panthers game with Luke Kuechly sobbing on the field, I ended up turning that game off because I couldn’t sit there and watch someone have a brain injury.

Reeves: I’m sure there’s a lot that we don’t see and these owners want their players on the field, and I think they’ve tried to make it look like there’s neutral doctors and concussion protocol, [but] there are times when guys are clearly out of it and they’re still on the field. I look at it like those guys know what they’re getting into, and it’s not on me to judge. I’m sure there’s more the league can be doing.

Mooney: When the movie “Concussion” came out, that was a huge eye-opener for me, because I didn’t understand how damaging they were and the long-term effects. The league seems to be improving, and I hope they continue to do that, because I can’t imagine having to go through that, especially after your career, dealing with all of those issues for the rest of your life. It’s a lot. People think of it as such a minor thing, it’s a concussion, I’m fine, but there’s so much more it can do to you, mentally, physically and emotionally.

Hardin: That’s a huge problem for me; I do integrative bodywork [as a craniosacral therapy practitioner], and in the last 10 years, I’ve seen men who played football in high school, college, and now 20, 30 years later are having issues. Not CTE issues per se, but feeling like something is off. Working with them, I’ve seen how it brings more clarity around the brain; their MRIs and PET scans all look normal, but they know something is off.

We watch because we like [our teams], but I don’t like seeing guys hurt, so it’s always been that balance of cringing and thinking, why am I watching this, but still watching it.

Q: Knowing what you know, would you let your children play tackle football?

Mori: I think I could be convinced, if it was something they really, really wanted to do. I wouldn’t want them to play too young; I’d want them to learn the fundamentals and minimize contact, because one of the things I’ve learned at Purdue is that brain trauma occurs way before the pro level…Yes, I’d allow my kid to play, but try to be as smart about it as possible.

Kane: I don’t have children, but it’s something I’ve thought about. I think with increasing evidence of damage to the brain, it’s concerning, particularly when you think about childhood development. I’m not sure how I would feel about that.

Lee: I’d let her play, but I’d let her know the risks. I’m the type that I believe you have to let them try, you have to let kids try, experience things. If you like it, go for it, but at the same time I have to explain to you the consequence when you play certain sports. Sports is not just the sport itself; it’s about teamwork, communication, understanding what role you play on a team. There’s a lot of things, not just the sport itself, but how you become a person in life.

Johnson: I’d be torn. My nephew stayed with me for a while, and he played tackle football, but this was over 10 years ago, before it was widespread knowledge. I would do some research and look into that, and would hope by the time my child hit the age of heavy hitting … I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t think I would. If my child really wanted to play, I’d really think about it. Concussion and CTE really do concern me.

Damschroder: That’s a really good question; I’m not sure yet. I don’t think I’d let them play before high school, because concussions compound. By the time I do have children, the landscape may be different, but if it’s like it is now, probably not. In 5-10 years, when I maybe have kids, then it’s another 10 years before they’d want to play, so it’s a long way away. But right now my stance is leaning toward the no side.

Hubbard: My son will be 19 and he played football. He played from the time he was 6; in ninth grade he played baseball and honestly, that was a decision I was super glad he made. He picked football up again in his senior year. For him it was the camaraderie of being around his friends was part of it, and he missed that part of the sport. I’m glad my son didn’t play varsity high school football for four years. … As much as I love the sport, it’s so dangerous.

Jasinski: I haven’t thought much about it because I’m so far away from that. I have friends that are moms and they’re talking about enrolling their kids in football and it’s definitely made me think. We grew up playing flag and touch football and I got a lot of joy out of that, so I consider those good options, especially when they’re so young.

Reeves: Without having kids, it’s really easy for me to say I’d never let them play, but it’s a little different when you have a kid that really wants to play, or they have that are playing. It’s easy for me now to say I wouldn’t let them play.

Hardin: I grew up in a house where we only studied; we didn’t play sports. We’re more watchers. So I don’t think so.

Q: What more would you like to see the NFL do to be more equitable or appealing for female fans?

Kane: A lot of teams are trying to be more inclusive of women in terms of activities like girls’ night out, women’s football clinics, and all that’s fun, but I’ve attended so many other things and the one thing I’ve noticed is they’re all condescending. We’re football fans. We might be women, but we’re still football fans. I don’t need to go to an event and get my nails done after football practice.

Damschroder: On a superficial level, taking about jerseys, that’s not what female fans care about. I don’t feel like I’m targeted as a fan, but I don’t feel like I need to. I know some teams have pink programs to educate women on football, and that’s condescending to me. Female fans know football. Eliminate the toxic masculinity aspects of football, the way announcers talk – “the Patriots got beat up in the first half, in the second half they’ll come back and reassert their manhood.” Show women we’re valued as fans and as people. Dedicate a couple of weeks to domestic violence survivors, and the proceeds can go to charities designed to help survivors. They already do some stuff like that, but that would be a start.

Molly Jasinski, 29, from West Allis, Wisconsin. (Special to Yahoo Sports)

Jasinski: I think in general, having more women in positions of power, if they had more women in the room where decisions are being made [would help], don’t just bring them in after something big happens. The fact that [Lisa Friel, the NFL’s senior vice president of investigations] was brought in after the fact, she should have been there a long time ago, before the Internet melted down over Ray Rice. They need more diverse voices, more diverse opinions and life experiences, other than a bunch of dudes who are just, “Let’s make as much money as possible, let’s keep the owners happy” – I think that’s how they operate now. Doing something different than what they’re doing now. … Applauding and celebrating women that are fans of football. I don’t necessarily know what it looks like, I just know it doesn’t look like what I see right now.

Q: Is there anything that would make you stop watching the NFL?

Mori: I really can’t think of anything reasonable that would make me stop watching the NFL totally. It would have to be really drastically different for me to do that.

Kane:

Lee: I don’t know. Maybe Tom Brady retires [laughs]? I don’t know in the future if there is anything that would trigger me to say, forget it, I won’t watch it. I know LeBron James is one of those that have been really vocal about race, I know Chris Long has been vocal, and I hope that if players are being more vocal, no matter which league they’re playing in, if the owners terminate a contract or cut his playing time, I think that may be a trigger point. If there was another [Colin] Kaepernick – I know he’s a free agent – but if somebody has a job and they terminate him, that may be a different story.

Johnson: If the Atlanta Falcons were to, I don’t know, have a Greg Hardy situation or something like that, then I would stop being a fan. Because right now, I used to watch football all the time, on the Falcons’ bye week I was on the couch watching football all day, and now I don’t as much. …The quality of games has gone down, but also I’m disillusioned. I’m sick of the hypocrisy, when you find out when the NFL has Breast Cancer Awareness month [as of this year, the NFL is using October to bring awareness to all cancers] and how much of that money actually goes to breast cancer research, then the story that the armed forces were paying the NFL to be honored, things like that make me a little disillusioned.

Damschroder: I’m sure there is. I’m sure something could happen that would make me do that, but I’m not sure what that thing would be. What makes me comfortable staying a fan is these situations are isolated usually. All of the domestic violence cases stem from Ray Rice’s issue, but even still, they’re kind of individual, so I think it would have to be something big that would have to affect the league on a national level, among all teams, among the owners. I’m thinking about Colin Kaepernick and his protest, so something like that. I don’t know what could stem from that that could make me say no, but something that affected the whole league.

Hubbard: [Kaepernick] is potentially my breaking point. I am a black person and I don’t want to make this about race, but it is. I am from Baltimore and we just had riots a couple of years ago. I have seen police brutality personally, I’ve seen it on my TV, this is nothing new to where I’m from. The situation with Kaepernick and what he’s kneeling is near and dear to me because I live in a city that has a problem between citizens and police pretty regularly. Now that excludes – bad people should go to jail. But I’m raising a black child and you feel some nervousness when they’re not there because you don’t know if he’s going to have a run-in with police, so the Kaepernick situation is near and dear to me, because I’m tired of people of color being oppressed and tired of people acting like oppression isn’t a real thing. …You can’t tell me [Kaepernick] isn’t good enough when we’re watching Josh McCown.

Jasinski: I have been going back and forth for the last couple months about how to approach this NFL season, mostly because of the fact that Colin Kaepernick is not playing. I’ve gone back and forth a lot and I think where I stand right now, and it’s hard – I really do love watching football.

I think my plan this year is to only watch Packer games; in my family it’s a bonding experience and I think I can have good discussions with them when we’re not watching other football games. My plan is not to spend the rest of the day Sunday and Monday nights and Thursday watching the game and instead my thought process and my goal hopefully reading books because I’ve been on my own personal journey – I’ve been trying to learn more about race. My thought process is instead of using that time sitting in front of the TV, 60 percent of those games are crappy anyway, instead I’ll try to deepen my understanding, try to get involved in fighting against injustice and that kind of stuff.

Reeves: My moral compass, I would like to think if the Patriots started bringing in guys – the Greg Hardys – I might say these are people I can’t get behind. But for me, it’s a social thing: I don’t just watch the Patriots, a big part of my Sundays is getting together with friends. I definitely would be less enthusiastic seeing guys who are brought in for a win-at-all-costs mentality. Would I flat-out turn it out and not watch? Probably not. I’ll add – the domestic violence stuff is definitely hard to swallow and I wish the league would try to show a little consistency. They nicked Tom Brady four games and he may or may not have messed with footballs. I wish they could be more consistent with how they handle those issues. Just because a guy isn’t arrested – in my own company, if I’m not arrested if I embarrass my company, I’m out the door.

Mooney: Yes. If they continue to give these players slap-on-the-wrist treatment for major things like domestic violence, being involved in any kind of criminal activity. Fans get so upset when players get in trouble and they can’t play, but to me there’s absolutely no excuse and at no point is it OK to put the justice system and the alleged situation on the back burner because someone is making the league profit. If they continue to make that a minuscule thing, and it’s not about safety or players’ rights legally, over long term that would ruin the game for me over time. There are so many people that work so hard to play in the NFL and never get that chance, and they don’t remember what a big deal it is when they are there. When these guys start to get arrogant and think they’re bigger and better than anyone in the world, that’s just teaching a terrible lesson, that you can do things wrong and it’s OK because you’re really good at something.

Hardin: The world is falling down around us, and football becomes less and less important. … And part of it is too, the reason I’m a Patriots fan is I grew up when the Patriots were always at the bottom, my dad would be watching them every week and he’d say, “Ah, they lost again.” The Patriots were just terrible. Then flash forward to Tom Brady, and it was right after my dad died that Bill Belichick and Brady came on board and I think it was because Tom being the wunderkind at the time, there were more national games, so I could see them more [living in California]. When Tom came in, I’d watch when the games were on, then I came to watch all of the games, then it became watching the completion to scout them, but now, I’m sort of faced with: we have five Super Bowl rings now, and at least for me, I can never relax because I think they’re going to lose. That’s the history I carry with me. We’ve been spoiled a little bit. To know that there are Patriots fans who have never experienced a losing season, I can’t relate to that.