Over the last few decades, Americans have enjoyed an ever-increasing love affair with the games of college and professional football. Eventually, the National Football League (NFL) surpassed Major League Baseball to become the country’s top sports attraction.
Unfortunately, in recent years, political activism has interfered with Americans being able to enjoy the game. It started to move in a disturbing direction in 2016 when San Francisco Forty-Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to protest during the playing of the National Anthem before the start of each game. His kneeling protest was adopted by other players, causing an uproar in the country. The practice continued in 2017 but diminished during the last two seasons.
Everything changed with the death of George Floyd in May of this year. Street protests have led to shootings, rioting, looting and the destruction of property worth billions of dollars. Even more troubling, police officers and protesters have been injured and killed.
These protests have migrated into many sporting events, including the game of football, both in the NFL and in the collegiate level, where the top conference is the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The current policy of the SEC is for all players to stay in the locker room while the National Anthem is performed, but the protests have been expressed in other ways.
Prior to the start of Saturday’s Ole Miss vs. Florida match-up, players and coaches took a knee “to acknowledge the unrest in our country surrounding the treatment of African Americans. We will continue to support social justice efforts as members of the Southeastern Conference and members of our respective communities.”
Vanderbilt University players displayed social messages on their helmets. There are 15 approved messages, including “Black Lives Matter,” and “No Justice No Peace.” Players for the universities of Georgia and Arkansas wore “equality” patches on their jerseys.
While college football players protested, NFL players have spent the past several weeks expressing outrage at police brutality and the treatment of African Americans in our country. The league decided to play the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the “Black National Anthem,” prior to the start of all the games during the first week.
During the first few weeks of the season, a variety of players have protested either by remaining in the locker room during pre-game ceremonies or by raising a fist or kneeling while the National Anthem was performed. These actions were approved by the NFL, which changed its stance on the issue.
In fact, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized for the league. He said, “We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.”
Along with Goodell’s apology and on-field symbolism, the NFL became financially involved in the issue by pledging $250 million in donations over a ten-year period to combat “systemic racism.”
Undoubtedly, these actions are popular with players and those who believe in social justice activism. However, there are plenty of fans who feel otherwise, and will take out their frustration by not watching football on television.
Diminished ratings will severely hurt the NFL during this pandemic because the league’s revenues will be much lower since stadium attendance is either extremely limited or not permitted at all.
As the 2020 season has now moved into week three, it seems that television viewers are leaving in droves. For last Thursday night’s NFL game, the television ratings sank to a four year low with only 5.43 million viewers, barely edging the viewership for the ABC show Celebrity Family Feud.
This entire year has been a ratings disaster for the NFL with both Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football experiencing massive declines in viewership.
There is a simple explanation for why this is occurring. Millions of Americans want to watch football as a distraction from their everyday troubles. For these viewers, the last thing they want is to be reminded of the national political battles on the football field or during league sponsored lectures masquerading as commercials.
If athletes want to get involved in politics, they should run for elected office. If they want to be involved in the criminal justice system, they should become police officers, lawyers, or judges. If they want to become social justice warriors, they should sign up to work as counselors or volunteer with a community based non-profit organization helping those in need. Otherwise, they can play football, or other sports, and do their activism on their own time, as opposed to doing it while hard working Americans are watching on television.
Unless the NFL and college football change course, the television viewership will never return to full strength. In fact, it is already too late for some viewers left forever because of their disgust with the politicization of athletics.
This exact scenario worried the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones, who speculated that the activism may hurt the NFL’s football ratings. He noted that the majority of his team’s fans recognize “what this great country is and what this flag stands for.”
Yes, Mr. Jones, not only your fans, but most NFL fans also appreciate the greatness of this country and our American Flag. As we can see from the decline in ratings, social justice activism is not as popular as good old-fashioned patriotism.
It is an uneasy scenario for any Louisiana resident. Imagine you are heading to a hospital for medical care. Since you are heading right to the hospital, that probably means it is for an emergency. A team of doctors, nurses, and support staff check you in, figure out what’s wrong, and deliver the time-sensitive treatment you need; as they do, you’re thankful that you have health insurance which covers emergency treatment.
Unfortunately, when you open your mailbox a few weeks later, you discover an outrageous bill for some aspect of your hospital visit, such as the charges for the emergency room doctor or the anesthesiologist. This bill is not for a co-pay, or payment against your deductible, but the full price tag of that service. It could be thousands of dollars in charges for health care services that you were sure would be covered.
This situation is what is called surprise medical billing. For more than one year, our U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy has been working tirelessly to generate support among his colleagues to stop it. Not surprisingly, the insurance industry is fighting back. Their high-priced lobbyists are targeting Senator Cassidy to weaken his bill, known as the STOP Surprise Medical Billing Act.
Surprise medical bills are most often the result of a billing dispute between insurance companies and the doctors and hospitals who deliver treatment. In theory, these disagreements should not negatively impact the patient, but the reality is quite different as too many people are getting stuck with exorbitant bills.
When insurers refuse to cover an out-of-network provider, patients get caught in the middle. This is one of the problems addressed by Senator Cassidy’s STOP Surprise Billing Act. It would remove patients from the dispute completely. Due to this benefit and many others, Cassidy has recruited 30 bipartisan sponsors for his legislation.
In fact, Senator Cassidy is spearheading the effort to end these surprise attacks on our pocketbooks by adopting Independent Dispute Resolution (IDR), which encourages all parties to come together for arbitration. Hopefully, insurers and healthcare providers will come to an agreement; however, if they cannot resolve the dispute themselves it gets decided through an independent mediator. Everyone gets fair treatment.
This commonsense approach is being opposed by insurance companies, which are funneling millions of dollars into lobbying efforts. Their self-serving goal is to create a system that benefits them, and their leading proponent is Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN). He is pressuring our Senator Cassidy to abandon IDR for a system of reimbursement that favors rates set by the insurance company.
Their favored approach is known as “benchmarking.” It sets reimbursement rates for out-of-network providers to in-network reimbursement rates. It also grants complete negotiating leverage to insurance companies.
Under this plan, emboldened insurers would have the ability to drive down reimbursement rates and put enormous financial strain on doctors and hospitals. Rural and urban health care providers, who do not have enough resources to make up for the lost revenue, would become particularly vulnerable.
If enacted, Senator Alexander’s plan would threaten countless doctors and hospitals with the risk of financial ruin. In addition, at the time when Americans need healthcare the most, hospitals may be forced to close and salaries for critical care workers may be cut as much as 20 percent or more. Most importantly, it will lead to less access to healthcare for patients.
Amid a pandemic, Alexander’s plan is not a solution. Instead, it will make our current crisis much worse.
We must encourage Senator Cassidy to hold firm to his current legislation, which has a companion bill in the House. His approach is the best for patients, healthcare providers, and insurers. It is time we solved the problem which is negatively impacting so many people in Louisiana.
IDR is the “fix” forward to protect patients from surprise medical bills while keeping secure the health access and affordability our families need. Please tell Senator and Dr. Bill Cassidy to stand by his bill, which ends surprise medical billing the right way.