"National Football League TV ratings down 13 percent in Week 1."

"NFL ratings in free fall."

Those headlines don't surprise me one bit.

But the NFL's rapidly declining popularity has nothing to do with televising too many games a week, too many commercials, too much violence or too many mediocre teams.

It has everything to do with politics -- liberal politics.

I'm a very political guy, in case you hadn't noticed.

But like most normal sports fans, I watch football on TV to relax, to enjoy myself.

I love nothing better than to sit back on Saturday mornings and watch college teams play all day.

Colleges still let you enjoy the game, but NFL games have become unwatchable.

On Sunday, Monday and Thursday the first thing you see when you tune in to a pro game are players taking a knee during the "national anthem" because of some political reason.

I don't give a damn what the quarterback, the head coach or the owner of the team thinks or tweets about politics, the president or the Steven King movie "It."

All I care is, "Are you going to win or lose? Can you pass, catch the ball or coach? Will the game be a good one?"

You wonder why so many people are so angry about politics these days?

It's because they can't get away from it -- not even for three hours on a Sunday afternoon for a dumb football game.

I watch sports to take a break and to get as far away as I can from the 24/7 political news cycle that dominates our daily lives.

But the NFL and ESPN -- which is laying off people because its ratings also are plummeting -- have made it impossible to take a respite from politics.

ESPN on-air staffers like Jemele Hill think it's OK to go on a rant accusing President Trump of being a white supremacist.

ESPN's liberal bosses should have canned her the way they canned conservative Curt Schilling a few years ago for saying politically incorrect things like Islamist extremists were like Nazis.

But they've accepted Hill's apology and, despite her previous political rantings, still employ her.

ESPN's owners are especially stupid to allow Hill to keep her job, since her attack on Trump offended millions of their viewers in Flyover Country who voted for him.

If it keeps practicing this kind of political bias, ESPN is liable to find itself being challenged by the FSN -- the Fox Sports Network.

But I wouldn't like it any better if I turned on "Monday Night Football" and heard Al Michaels and his sidekick Steve Bannon railing about crybaby Hillary Clinton and how awful her new book of excuses is.

If I want politics, I can watch "Hannity," listen to Rush or tune in to one of the liberal Trump-bashing Sunday shows like "Meet the Press."

The NFL should keep political posturing or messaging of every kind out of its games.

It's up to team owners to pull up their jock straps and put an end to pregame kneel-downs and protests before it gets out of control.

The owners need to tell their protesting stars and scrubs that, yes, you have a First Amendment right to kneel or sit during the "anthem" if you want.

But they should add that if a player wants to make a political statement on game day, as owners they also have the right to make them sit out the rest of the season.

Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant and the author of "The New Reagan Revolution" (St. Martin's Press). He is the founder of the email service reagan.com and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Visit his websites at www.reagan.com and www.michaelereagan.com. Send comments to Reagan@caglecartoons.com. Follow @reaganworld on Twitter.

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