More than seven out of 10 sports fans support teams and athletes speaking out on issues of social justice and racial equality, according to an online survey of 837 sports fans conducted for ESPN.
Of the 71% of fans who supported athletes speaking out, 44% strongly supported it. Nearly half of the fans surveyed said they are more likely to support teams and athletes who speak out than they were last year, while 20% say they are less likely to (33% were unchanged).
However, fans were divided on where that conversation should take place. Overall, 51% of respondents in the survey felt players should share their views during events, while 49% said they should speak out away from the field or court. And when broken down by race, 76% of Black fans thought athletes should be speaking out while games are happening; 61% of Hispanic fans and 46% of white fans thought the same.
The wide-ranging survey of fans 18 and over was conducted by TideWatch for ESPN. It included a base sample of 537 interviews and an additional oversample of 300 interviews with Black fans, who were then weighted into their proper proportion of the population.
The survey asked fans how long they want to see athletes speak out on social justice issues, and there was a divergence of opinion. Nearly half of MLB fans — 45% — said for the rest of the MLB season, while 34% said not at all and 21% said only during the first games of the season. Similarly, 51% of NBA fans said for the rest of the NBA season, while 25% said not at all and 24% said only during the first games of the season.
Support for kneeling during the national anthem was mixed — 56% support it and 44% oppose it. Among white fans, there is a 50-50 split. Among Black fans, 84% find kneeling during the anthem appropriate; 67% of Hispanic fans agreed.
Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled during the national anthem before a preseason game in 2016, has not played an NFL game since the end of that season. Asked if the NFL should apologize to Kaepernick, a slight majority (54%) said the league should definitely or probably apologize to him, while 36% said it shouldn’t. Among Black fans, however, 85% think the league should definitely or probably apologize. That number is 49% for white fans.
Asked about their feelings about Kaepernick, 37% say they are more positive in recent months, 40% say their opinion is unchanged and 19% have a less positive view of him. Kaepernick’s role in helping ignite the conversation around social justice has put him back in the headlines this year.
Asked about NASCAR’s ban of the confederate flag, 64% of respondents supported it. Nearly the same number (63%) supported the NFL’s proposal to display social justice messages in the end zones when the season is scheduled to start in September. The decision of the NFL to play “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often considered the Black national anthem, was supported by 54% of fans.
Fans support the NBA putting Black Lives Matter on the court and putting social justice messages on the back of uniforms at the same rate (55%). Fans supported the Opening Day show of support by Major League Baseball teams at a 53% rate.