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Nearly One-Third of Americans Say They Would Not Let Their Son Play Football

Survey finds significant increase over the last year in number who would not let their son play

WASHINGTON – A new survey released today from the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) finds that nearly one-third (31 percent) of Americans would not allow a young son to play competitive football, a marked shift from last year when only 22 percent said the same. Women are more likely than men to say they would prevent their son from playing, as are Americans with a four-year college degree when compared to those with a high school education or less.

The fourth annual survey of sports and religion, conducted among a random sample of 1,009 Americans by PRRI in partnership with Religion News Service (RNS), examines attitudes about the popularity of different sports, the safety of football, gambling and fantasy sports, concerns about professional football, and prayer and sports.

Views of Professional Football

While concerns about the safety of football are on the rise, it remains—by a wide margin—America’s favorite sport to watch: roughly four in ten (38 percent) Americans say that football is their favorite sport to watch. This far outpaces basketball (11 percent), baseball (9 percent), soccer (8 percent), auto racing (6 percent), and hockey (5 percent). Roughly two-thirds of the public report that it is very likely (43 percent) or somewhat likely (25 percent) that they will watch the Carolina Panthers take on the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl this year. Still, professional football does face some challenges. While 62 percent of Americans say that they have a generally favorable opinion of professional football, 29 percent report an unfavorable view. When asked what bothers them most about professional football, Americans respond citing a number of concerns.

“As we head into the presidential primary season, we see stark partisan divisions even in concerns about professional football,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI. “Democrats are more than twice as likely as Republicans to cite concussions and violence as their top concerns, while Republicans are almost twice as likely as Democrats to say it bothers them that players are poor role models.”

More than one-quarter (26 percent) of Democrats cite violence or concussions as what bothers them most about professional football, compared to only 11 percent of Republicans. Republicans, in turn, are about twice as likely as Democrats to mention players serving as poor role models (29 percent vs. 16 percent, respectively).

Participation in Youth Sports

Though professional football has maintained primacy as the sport of choice for fans, there are shifting trends in youth sports participation.

“The survey reveals a dramatic generational shift in the popularity of youth sports,” said Dr. Dan Cox, research director of PRRI. “Soccer has replaced baseball and softball as the dominant childhood sport in America. Today’s young adults are more likely to have played soccer during their formative years than any other sport, the only generation for which this is true.”

No youth sport was played more often among young adults (age 18-29) than soccer, with more than one-quarter (26 percent) saying they played soccer growing up, compared to only four percent of seniors (age 65 and older). In contrast, nearly four in ten (37 percent) seniors say that baseball or softball was the sport they played during childhood, while only 16 percent of young adults say the same. Roughly similar numbers of young adults (11 percent) and seniors (9 percent) report that they grew up playing football

Fantasy Sports and Gambling

Nearly half of Americans (48 percent) believe that playing online fantasy sports, including at sites like FanDuel and DraftKings, is gambling. Notably, Americans who say that they have played fantasy sports are more likely to describe online fantasy sports as gambling, compared to people who don’t play (56 percent vs. 47 percent, respectively). At the same time, 63 percent of Americans say that gambling is morally acceptable, while only 28 percent say it is morally wrong.

With the exception of white evangelical Protestants and non-white Protestants, majorities of every religious group say gambling is morally acceptable. Nearly eight in ten (79 percent) religiously unaffiliated Americans, three-quarters (75 percent) of white mainline Protestants, and two-thirds (67 percent) of Catholics say gambling is morally acceptable. Half (50 percent) of white evangelical Protestants believe that gambling is morally acceptable, while more than four in ten (41 percent) say it is morally wrong. Non-white Protestants are closely divided over the morality of gambling: 45 percent say it is morally acceptable and 47 percent say it is not.

Prayer and High School Sports

Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of the public believe that football coaches at public high schools should be allowed to lead their players in Christian prayer during games, while only about one-quarter (24 percent) say they should not.

There is agreement across the religious landscape on whether this constitutes permissible activity, although the strength of agreement varies. Ninety-three percent of white evangelical Protestants agree that football coaches should be allowed to lead players in Christian prayer during games, as do 80 percent of Catholics, 77 percent of non-white Protestants, and 76 percent of white mainline Protestants. Even most religiously unaffiliated Americans appear comfortable with this idea: 55 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans say coaches should be allowed to lead players in Christian prayer, while 40 percent disagree.

Full Findings Available Online

Read the report, including demographic breakdowns by religion, race, age, gender.

Read the topline questionnaire, including survey methodology.


The survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. The survey was made possible by a generous grant from The Henry Luce Foundation. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews conducted between January 20, 2016, and January 24, 2016. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,009 adults 18 years of age or older living in the United States (611 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.6 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence.