How athlete protests have affected viewing habits

Graeme BruceBusiness Data Journalist
September 22, 2020, 7:00 PM UTC

As professional sports leagues embrace the Black Lives Matter Movement and give athletes more leeway to express their political beliefs, nearly half of Americans say messages of protest during games have changed their viewing habits. 

Yahoo News / YouGov Poll data shows roughly a third of Americans (36%) say protest messages make them less likely to tune in to watch a game, while 12 percent say they’re more likely.  

Those interested in Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Football League (NFL) are all more likely than the general public to say such political protests would make them more likely to watch. 

Americans seem fine with athletes speaking their mind in public, but not necessarily on the court or field. Polling data shows about three in five (61%) approve of athletes speaking to media about injustice, but there is less approval for protest messages on courts and uniforms (41% approve) or kneeling before games during the national anthem (45%). Stark partisan divides appear regarding these acts, however, with Democrats significantly more likely to approve, compared to Republicans. 

This era of protest in the pro-sports world began with Colin Kaepernick, who in 2016 started taking a knee during the national anthem to protest the treatment of Black people by police. One in five (20%) of Americans say they are more accepting of protests during sporting events than they were five years ago, while 29 percent say they are less accepting now. 

Only about one in ten (10%) Americans oppose playing the national anthem prior to sporting events, while a majority (55%) favor it. Roughly a third (35%) are neutral on the matter. Across racial lines, there is no significant difference in opposition to playing the Start-Spangled Banner before a game, though white Americans are more than twice as likely as Black Americans to favor the long-standing practice. 

Ahead of each Week 1 game this season, the NFL played “Life Every Voice and Sing,” widely known as the Black National Anthem. About a quarter of Americans (24%) favor the gesture, with those interested in the NFL more likely to say so (31%). Roughly a third of Americans (36%) oppose and two in five (40%) are neutral. 

Methodology: The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,001 U.S. adult residents interviewed online September 15 - 17, 2020. Respondents were re-interviewed from the previous nationally representative survey. The sample was weighted to gender, age, race, education, geographic region, news interest, 2016 Presidential vote and registration status. The margin of error is 3.5 percent.

Image: Getty