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Local sports business says it’s hurt by NFL protests

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — House of Football, which last year saw revenues drop due to internet sales, now says its Albuquerque and Rio Rancho stores are being hit by controversy over the National Football League player protests.

Co-owner Andy Hageman said Tuesday his business has seen a 50 percent drop in its sales of NFL-licensed gear so far this month compared to the same month last year. Sales had been even in September.

If trends continue, the stores will be forced to close by Christmas, laying off 24 employees, he said.

It was more than a year ago when San Francisco quarterback Colin Kapernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality. After a few more players did so last month, President Donald Trump made harsh comments about the practice. The following Sunday, NFL players, coaches and owners across the league kneeled, locked arms or showed other signs of unity.

House of Football’s social media sites have been hit with a number of angry posts about the protest from people who seem to be venting at the business.

“We are not affiliated with the NFL,” Hageman said in a phone interview. “And really, if we are forced to go out of business, when the dust settles, all of these angry people will have to buy their stuff directly from the NFL.”

Others, though, have chimed in to support the players — and Hageman’s business.

Last year, House of Football lost $50,000 in annual sales when the NFL ruled only the league could sell NFL products online. In addition, the NFL has enacted another rule stating that only official NFL stores can sell gear players wear on the sidelines.

“Maybe that’s why (the NFL isn’t) doing anything to fix the problem — to drive out the mom-and-pop operations,” Hageman said.

He said he is angry at both the NFL and the players for failing to reach a resolution, and he blames Trump for making the problem worse.

“Before Trump’s speech, there were half a dozen players kneeling,” he said. “Now, everyone is kneeling and people are taking sides.”