If You’re Going To #BoycottNFL, Make Sure You Know Why

Welcome to the biggest disaster of a hashtag in recent memory

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Sep 09, 2016 at 3:03 PM ET

NFL business is undoubtedly booming. Television ratings are great. Fantasy participation is massive. Ad revenue is through the roof. And perhaps there’s no better sign of the sport’s popularity than this: a man’s simple act to sit or kneel through the National Anthem dominates media and public discourse for weeks.

All of this is to say how unlikely an NFL boycott would be, yet everyone woke up this morning to find #BoycottNFL near the top of Twitter’s trending topics.

You’re not alone, Ken, as the tag has been appropriated by a few different causes in the past month. This summer’s initial tweet with that tag appeared back on Aug. 11, in response to the NFL prohibiting the Cowboys from wearing special decals honoring the Dallas Police Department one month after five officers were killed. The trendsetter? A Donald Trump impersonator and supporter.

There wasn’t much momentum for #BoycottNFL then, but it got a boost after Colin Kaepernick’s initial anthem protest. It gained oxygen from those purporting to be deeply offended by his action; apparently their thinking was, if one player should not stand for the anthem, then the whole sport should be boycotted.

When the NFL season started on Thursday night, the hashtag really skyrocketed—but for a very different reason. Those sickened by the league’s policies, up to and including its substandard reactions to major off-field crimes committed by players, co-opted the phrase to point out the ridiculousness of boycotting the sport over a peaceful protest and not, say, a rape or domestic assault.

As of late Friday morning, the #BoycottNFL tag had been used 13,714 times in the past month, with 8,021 of those instances (58 percent) occurring in the previous 24 hours, according to Vocativ’s analysis.

Based on this Twitter traffic, it seems the public doesn’t actually want to boycott the NFL, and the intent behind the recent spike in usage reinforces the fact that an anthem protest is far from the league’s biggest issue.