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For the third week in a row, ratings for National Football League games have gone down markedly, and that's beginning to give rise to the question: is this because of Colin Kaepernick-inspired protests?

The 49-ers back-up quarterback's protest has set off a bevy of copy cats which has been a turn-off for people who want players to simply play.

CBS New Detroit says that includes one Michigan man, James Olson, who thought football was supposed to be a politics-free zone:

“I want to say to these guys ‘If you weren’t playing in the NFL, you would be working at McDonalds.' I think people have had it.

Sports used to not be a stage for this, and now it is, so I’m turning it off. I refused to watch the Chicago-Philadelphia game because they were going to protest …You start to figure out you can get along without football, there are other things out there I can do."

The ratings drift has prompted the question in another NFL town.

My Brother! United as One! @e_reid35

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In Philadelphia, where some of the Eagles raised their fists in solidarity with Black Lives Matter-

—they're asking about what could be called the Kaepernick effect:

"The demonstrations from NFL players have caused a lot of mixed reactions from the viewing public, some of which are applauding the players for expressing their feelings, while others condemn the players for using their platform, to in their view, dishonor the flag, military and police.

The league has not condemned, nor fined players for their protests to this point, but is there a business incentive that may prompt that at some point?

That invokes the question: Are these protests hurting NFL ratings?

Forbes Magazine has been chronicling the downward trend in the NFL TV ratings:

“Week 2 of the NFL season is picking up right where Week 1 ended in terms of TV ratings. This weekend’s Sunday Night Football failed to reverse the downward trend and the same holds true for last night’s Monday Night Football on ESPN.”

In week three of the NFL, the presidential debate ratings set records, siphoning viewers who really wanted to watch politics.

Sports Business Daily reports that the number of eyeballs closed to the NFL is telling:

The NFL's three primetime packages are each seeing double-digit percentage declines to date. NBC continues to lead with an average of 23.0 million viewers, but that figure is down 10% from “SNF” last year, when the net was on a record pace to start the season.

ESPN's “MNF” is averaging 10.84 million viewers to date, down 19% from the first four games last season and marking the slowest start for “MNF” since ESPN was averaging 10.52 million viewers to start the '07 season.

CBS and NFL Net are combining to average 16.37 million viewers, down 15% from '15...

Some former viewers have begun a boycott, which might be having some effect, but 'Media Futurist' Rich Greenfield, a former stock analyst, says the drop in numbers has been happening for four years:

And there could be other factors. For instance, Sunday Night Football and Thursday Night Football might be making the NFL a little too 'common', according to this football enthusiast:

And then there's the fact that Millennials are veering away from network television:

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell  encouraged the protests at the beginning of the season:

“...I truly respect our players wanting to speak out and change the community. We don’t live in a perfect society. We want them to use that voice. And they’re moving from protests to progress and trying to make things happen in the communities. And I admire that about our players, (being) willing to do that."

Goodell has been a hardliner on other NFL breaches of protocol, fining players for the shoes, colors and clothes they wear. No players have been fined for the National Anthem/Black Lives Matter protests. But his lax attitude on this and the subsequent TV ratings decline might give him pause.

Still, Goodell also knows that he presides over the most popular sport in America. It's just that people are now asking, how long will it last?

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