Marking a noteworthy shift in public opinion, a slim majority of Americans, 51%, now say professional sports leagues, such as the NFL, should not require their athletes to stand during the national anthem while 47% say they should. When this question was last reported in September 2016, public opinion tilted in the opposite direction. At that time, 52% of Americans thought players should be required to stand while 43% thought they should not be forced to do so.
Majorities of residents in the Northeast, 52% up from 45% last year, and West, 58% up from 53%, do not think athletes should be required to rise during the national anthem. Residents in the Midwest and South divide. In the Midwest, 50% believe this should be a requisite for playing while 47% disagree. In the South, 50% say it should be mandated that players stand during the national anthem while 48% do not think this should be a requirement. Of note, in the South and Midwest, the issue has become more divided. In September, residents in these regions were more likely to say that players must stand.
Differences exist along racial lines. African Americans, 76% up from 48% previously, say athletes should not be made to stand for the national anthem. A majority of Latino residents, 56%, agree. However, a majority of white residents, 54%, say professional athletes should rise when the anthem is played. The views of white and Latino Americans are consistent with the findings in 2016.
While a majority of Americans believe these protests should be allowed, they divide about whether or not these protests are respectful. 49% of Americans say these demonstrations are disrespectful to the freedoms the anthem represents while 46% believe it demonstrates the anthem’s freedoms. There has been little change on this question since a previous survey released last year.
A majority of Americans, 57%, describe the national anthem as more of a symbol of Americans’ rights and freedoms. 34%, though, consider the anthem to be more a symbol of the sacrifice of the U.S. military. 10% are unsure. When this question was reported last year, 65% of Americans thought the national anthem to be a symbol of the rights afforded citizens while 27% said it is a symbol of the sacrifices of the U.S. military. Eight percent, at that time, were unsure.
A majority of Americans value the right of professional athletes to protest racial inequality by kneeling or locking arms during the performance of the national anthem before a game. 52% of residents nationally think the athletes did the right thing by carrying out this protest. 41% say they did the wrong thing.
However, more than two in three Americans, 68%, believe President Donald Trump did the wrong thing when he criticized and called for the firing of NFL players who took a knee during the anthem. 28% think his response was correct. Residents divide about whether Vice President Mike Pence did the right thing, 47%, or wrong thing, 47%, when he walked out of an NFL game when some of the players kneeled in protest during the national anthem.
Football viewership has remained steady. Today, 69% of U.S. adults say they watch or follow the sport at least a little. Of note, when Marist first started tracking this question in August 2009, when Michael Vick was returning to the NFL after serving time for his involvement in a dog fighting ring, only 56% of Americans said they followed the game at least a little.