RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The Super Bowl is on Sunday, and it's pretty much a given that the game will draw a huge television audience. But long term, NFL viewership is trending down. A survey this week by the research and consulting firm Passions in America found that 22 percent of those questioned said they watched fewer NFL broadcasts this season. The main reason they've stayed away? Respondents say the NFL has gotten too political, and they cite the NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest police violence. This Sunday, none of the players are expected to protest. But the debate is not over yet. Here's NPR's Quil Lawrence.
QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: President Donald Trump knows an applause line.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Why we put our hands on our hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.
LAWRENCE: And it's a fair bet the president knew his remarks in the State of the Union address would stir controversy. The veterans organization AMVETS, however, says controversy is not what it had in mind when it released an ad the day after the president's speech. Its title is "Please Stand."
JOHN HOELLWARTH: Please stand.
LAWRENCE: John Hoellwarth is an Iraq vet and spokesman for AMVETS.
HOELLWARTH: It's been very misunderstood and politicized.
LAWRENCE: Hoellwarth says the NFL contacted AMVETS out of the blue three weeks ago and offered a discounted full-page ad in the Super Bowl program. AMVETS made an ad titled "Please Stand." The NFL said that could sound political and asked them to change it to something like "Please Stand with Our Veterans." AMVETS refused and produced this television ad instead.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD, "PLEASE STAND")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Please vote.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Please volunteer.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Please serve.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Please exercise your rights.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Please stand.
LAWRENCE: Hoellwarth says the vets in his organization prefer that people stand. That doesn't mean they're against peaceful protest.
HOELLWARTH: We're for it. We're for it. Look, peaceful protest - that's an American value. It's a value that our members share and fought for. And it's a celebration of Americanism.
LAWRENCE: In a statement to The Associated Press, the NFL said the Super Bowl game program has never been a place for advertising that could be considered by some as a political statement and that the NFL has long supported the military and veterans. Hoellwarth says AMVETS wasn't looking for controversy, but he doesn't mind the attention, especially if there's a chance to have a civil discussion about it.
Quil Lawrence, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.