Fans took to social media in response to the NFL player protests on Sunday.

The Ravens flag that flew outside Tim Swigert's Anne Arundel County house came down, and the autographed memorabilia in his purple-painted man cave was packed in boxes. He's turning his back on his beloved team after some of its players took a knee.

"I just can't support people who don't support the country," said Swigert, 33.


He is among the fans who say they want to sell their tickets to future games in response to Sunday's NFL-wide protest. Other fans went further, burning their teams' jerseys, even as other fans happily offered to take any tickets or memorabilia off their hands. Meanwhile, President Donald J. Trump continued to stoke the uproar that he largely created Friday by denouncing players who kneeled in protest and calling for their firing.

His remarks, made at a rally in Alabama, prompted more players than ever before to kneel or to lock arms in solidarity during Sunday's pre-game anthem ceremonies. The NFL commissioner and some team owners expressed their support for players and their right to free expression.

While players said they are protesting racial injustice, Trump and others framed it as disrespecting the flag, the military and even the country as a whole.

Sports marketing experts said it is unclear if the current turmoil will prove fleeting or have a lasting impact — on game attendance, TV viewership and the NFL brand.

Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said the team's switchboard lit up in the aftermath of Sunday's game, as it tends to do anyway after a loss. But this time, fans also had much to say — on both sides — about the players' symbolic action.

"We are hearing a variety of opinions -- some showing disappointment with the players who demonstrated and others showing support," said Byrne, the team's senior vice president of public and community relations.

"Clearly there are more expressing displeasure with what some of the players did. We've had calls from fans who say they won't support us anymore," he said. "A few are saying that they are stronger Ravens fans because of the demonstrations and the statements from [owner] Steve [Bisciotti] and the players and [coach] John [Harbaugh] after the game."

"A lot of families coalesce around 'This is our team,' " said Henry C. Boyd III, professor of marketing at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. "That's not going to go away overnight."

But how the league responds to the issue of racial inequality that spawned the protests — initially, last season, by the then 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — will determine whether it lands on "the right side" of history, said Boyd, a lawyer and consultant whose clients have included the NFL.

"What are the values we stand for?" Boyd said. The NFL is "one of the major institutions that can take this on."

That a sports league has been thrust into a raging political battle is "emblematic" of the state of the country, said sports marketing consultant Bob Leffler.

"It's split. It's two countries now," said the Baltimore-based Leffler, who has run branding campaigns for the Ravens and other NFL teams.

Leffler said the NFL has responded as well as possible to Trump's statements. He said he expected some fans may indeed dump their tickets in protest, although that may not mean more empty seats.

"Somebody else will buy them," Leffler said. "I think there will be an effect, but I don't think people will stay home in droves."


Most fans, of course, watch the games on television or online, rather than in person. Nationally, NFL viewership was a mixed bag on Sunday, with CBS reporting an overall 4 percent increase in viewership over the same week last year, while NBC and Fox's early ratings were down 10 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

About 425,000 Baltimoreans tuned in to WJZ to watch the Ravens get demolished by the Jacksonville Jaguars in London — about 6,000 more fans than watched the season opener against the Bengals, but some 21,000 fewer than watched last year's Week 3 game.

Leffler and Boyd said that viewership is harder to measure these days, with many fans either watching livestreams online, or highlight shows that allow them to follow individual players for fantasy leagues rather than entire games.

For fans like Swigert, who is a police officer but asked that his department not be named, the controversy is an unwelcome political intrusion on sports.

"We watch football to get away from everything," he said.

Swigert said he sold his tickets to this Sunday's game against the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers, always an anticipated match-up, and is considering what to do with the seat license he's had for nine years.

Swigert said he was particularly distressed to see retired player Ray Lewis, whom he considers the greatest linebacker ever to play the game, join the current Ravens who knelt on Sunday. While he was already planning to travel to Canton, Ohio, to see Lewis inducted in the Hall of Fame next summer, now he's considering skipping it.

"There's a time and a place for everything," he said of the exercise of free speech rights. "I just don't think this is the time or the place."

There are fans on both sides of the issue, as demonstrated by the response to those who posted on social media that they're selling their football tickets in protest of the protesters. They often quickly receive responses from fans who are willing to buy them.

A group of protesters previously marched to M&T Bank Stadium to protest what they consider the blackballing of Kaepernick, who remains unsigned even as teams including the Ravens have considered hiring him.

But on Sunday and Monday, those who objected to the players' actions were loud, flooding talk radio and the team's Facebook page with angry or disappointed comments.

Longtime Ravens fan Sean Maloney, 60, of Salisbury, said he was "super disappointed" to see a group of Ravens players taking a knee at Sunday's game in London. He hasn't decided whether to attend Sunday's Ravens game or sell his tickets.

"I want to go to the game but the NFL has soured this," said Maloney, who owns a telecommunications company.

Maloney decried the way the NFL is framing the issue.

Ravens fans react to players kneeling during the national anthem in London.

"It's not about the right to free speech. It's about the right not to disrespect … the armed services and what this country stands for," Maloney said.

He said he will consider going on Sunday if he can help with any protests, such as leaving early to express his disdain. But what he really would like to see is for the Naval Academy to send hundreds of midshipmen to M&T Bank Stadium to line each side of the field, so that fans wouldn't have to witness the kneeling players.

Those who are hoping to signal their approval or disapproval of the players' demonstrations should face an interesting dilemma in Baltimore this weekend: The visiting team, the Steelers, angered many by deciding as a team to stay in the locker room as the anthem played.

But one Steeler lineman, Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan, seemed to break ranks and stood in the tunnel, hand on heart.And fans opened their wallets in support: ESPN reported that his jerseys and other memorabilia bearing his name were the top-selling of any player's on Monday.


(Later Monday, Villanueva apologized for standing apart from the team, saying he wanted to get a view of the flag and inadvertently got separated from other players in the pre-game hubbub of the tunnel. By the time he realized he was alone, the anthem had started and it was too late to turn around, he said.)

Ben Roethlisberger says he was troubled by the Steelers' decision to remain in the locker room during the national anthem.

Baltimore Sun reporters Chris Kaltenbach and Edward Lee contributed to this article.