Protesting the National Anthem: Disrespectful
or an Expression of Freedom?
Latest HBO Real Sports/Marist Poll looks at current sports controversy
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. (Sept. 29, 2016) – A majority of Americans think professional athletes should be required to stand for the national anthem, and nearly two-thirds of those surveyed consider the anthem to be a symbol of Americans' rights and freedoms, according to the latest HBO Real Sports/Marist Poll, conducted in association with the Marist Center for Sports Communication. However, Americans divide about whether or not it is disrespectful for a player or team to refuse to stand for the national anthem in protest of an issue. On many of these questions, opinions differ based on race, military service, and age. The results were released this week in conjunction with the broadcast of host Bryant Gumbel's Real Sports story on the controversy surrounding San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's protest of the national anthem.
According to the poll, 52% of Americans say professional sports leagues should require their athletes to stand for the national anthem. 43% think such a display should not be mandated. While a majority of white residents, 56%, say the players should be obligated to rise for the anthem, a majority of Latino adults, 55%, and nearly half of African American residents, 48%, report they should not be made to do so. A notable 11% of African Americans are unsure. United States military veterans, 57%, are slightly more likely than those who have not served in the military, 51%, to report that professional athletes should be required to stand for the national anthem. A majority of those under the age of 45 years old, 57%, do not think athletes should be required to stand for the national anthem. More than six in ten older residents, 63%, have the opposite point of view.
What do Americans perceive to be the significance of the national anthem? 65% of residents say it is more a symbol of Americans' rights and freedoms while 27% report it is more a symbol of the sacrifice of the U.S. military. Veterans, 36%, are more likely than those who have not served in the military, 26%, to define the anthem as a symbol of military sacrifice. Still, 54% of veterans, compared with 67% of those who are not, consider the song to be more of a symbol of Americans’ rights and freedoms.
"These results refute the myth that Americans prefer their athletes to simply play sports and keep quiet," says Keith Strudler, Director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication. "They also show a remarkable divide between how minorities and whites view the reverence of political displays such as Colin Kaepernick’s recent protest."
A divide exists about whether or not it is disrespectful if a team or athlete does not stand for the song. 50% say it is disrespectful to the freedoms the anthem represents while 46% assert it demonstrates the freedoms the anthem expresses. Again, racial differences exist. 57% of whites think it is disrespectful while about two-thirds of African Americans, 68%, and Latinos, 64%, believe it is a demonstration of their civil liberties. Among veterans, more than six in ten, 61%, say it is offensive not to stand for the anthem. Among those who are not veterans, there is a divide. 48% consider the protest disrespectful while 47% say it is an expression of the freedoms the song represents. Among those who are under 45 years of age, 57% say it is an expression of liberty while a similar proportion of those who are older, 58%, think such a protest is disrespectful to the freedoms the anthem represents.
Should the national anthem be played while professional players are on the court or field, if at all? A majority of U.S. residents, 54%, say the song should be played with the athletes present. 34% report it should be performed before the players appear on the court or field. Eight percent of U.S. residents assert the anthem should not be played at sporting events at all. Looking at race, majorities of whites, 57%, and Latinos, 53%, say the current process of having the players present while the anthem is performed should continue. Half of African Americans, 50%, think the song should be heard but before the athletes are present. 35% believe it should be played with the players on the court or field. More than one in ten African Americans, 11%, do not think the anthem should be performed at all. Veterans, 67%, are more likely than those who have not served, 52%, to opine that the anthem should be performed with the athletes on the field or court.
A majority of Americans, 54%, think athletes should be involved in politics such as endorsing candidates or speaking out on causes. 38% say they should not. While 50% of veterans think professional athletes should abstain from this type of participation, 55% of those who are not veterans think athletes should be politically active. Younger residents are proponents of political participation by professional athletes. 61% of those under 45 years old, compared with 47% of those 45 and older, think it is acceptable for professional athletes to be politically active.