Nearly three-quarters of Americans support teams signing gay and lesbian athletes
WASHINGTON – With less than two weeks to go until Super Bowl XLIX, a majority of Americans (53 percent) believe that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success on the playing field. At the same time, roughly one-quarter (26 percent) of Americans say that God plays a role in determining which team wins a game.
The third annual survey of sports and religion, conducted among a random sample of 1,012 Americans by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, examines public attitudes about professional sports and domestic violence, gay and lesbian athletes, the role of God in sports, and perceptions of the danger of football.
“This survey shows that Americans are taking the problem of domestic violence very seriously and believe the NFL should as well,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “Nearly three in ten Americans say they don’t want to see a player on the field if he’s been convicted of domestic violence.”
Professional Sports and Domestic Violence
The survey finds that nearly three-in-ten Americans (29 percent) say that a football player found guilty of domestic violence should be permanently banned from the NFL. There are notable differences of opinion between men and women: 36 percent of female sports fans support banning a player from the NFL for life, compared to 21 percent of male fans.
The survey also identified stark differences of opinion among different ethnic groups. Thirty-four percent of white Americans and 28 percent of Hispanic Americans favor a lifetime ban for professional football players found guilty of domestic violence, while only 12 percent of black Americans support a lifetime ban.
There are modest differences among religious groups, with 39 percent of white evangelical Protestants favoring a permanent ban for football players found guilty of domestic violence, compared to 31 percent of white mainline Protestants, 30 percent of Catholics, and 31 percent of the religiously unaffiliated. Minority Protestants stand out as the least likely to favor a permanent ban for such players (17 percent) and the most likely to support allowing the player to return after a temporary suspension (71 percent).
Roughly two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans say they would oppose a team signing a player who was convicted of domestic violence but not facing any current legal trouble, compared to 30 percent who would support a team signing such a player.
Gay and Lesbian Athletes in Professional Sports
“The recruitment of Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted in the NFL, was a watershed moment in professional sports,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “Today, nearly three-quarters of Americans support the signing of gay and lesbian professional athletes, but at the same time, most still believe gay and lesbian athletes face significant discrimination.”
About three-quarters (73 percent) of Americans say that they would support a professional sports team signing a gay or lesbian athlete, compared to 19 percent who would oppose it. In fact, majorities of Americans across all religious groups and political affiliations support signing gay and lesbian athletes: 54 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 66 percent of minority Protestants, 77 percent of white mainline Protestants, 78 percent of Catholics, and 84 percent of the religiously unaffiliated. Sixty-six percent of Republicans would support a professional team signing a gay or lesbian athlete, as would 79 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of independents.
A majority (56 percent) of Americans say that gay and lesbian athletes face a lot of discrimination in professional sports. Thirty-two percent say that they face a little discrimination, while nine percent say that they do not face any discrimination. White evangelical Protestants are less likely than members of other religious groups to believe that gay and lesbian athletes face a lot of discrimination, with 44 percent saying they face a little discrimination and 11 percent saying they face none at all.
Republicans are significantly less likely than Democrats and independents to perceive discrimination against gay and lesbian athletes. Forty-three percent of Republicans say that gay and lesbian athletes face a lot of discrimination in professional sports, compared to 65 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of independents.
Religion and Sports
On any given Sunday, 25 percent of Americans say that they are more likely to be in church than watching football, while 18 percent are more likely to be watching football than to be in church, and 25 percent say that they are mostly likely to be doing both. Men are more likely to be watching football than to be in church (24 percent vs. 17 percent), while women are more likely to be in church (32 percent vs. 13 percent). Nearly half (45 percent) of white evangelical Protestants say that they are more likely to be in church than watching football, while only six percent say the opposite. About one-third (32 percent) of white evangelical Protestants say they would most likely be doing both. Among the religiously unaffiliated, six percent say that they are more likely to be in church on Sunday, 25 percent say that they are more likely to be watching football, and 60 percent say that they are most likely to be doing neither.
There are stark differences between young and old Americans when it comes to both of these activities. Forty percent of Americans age 18 to 29 say that they are most likely to be neither in church or watching football on any given Sunday. By comparison, only 26 percent of those aged 65 and above say that they are likely to do neither.
A majority (53 percent) of Americans say that God rewards athletes who have faith with health and success, including roughly two-thirds of Catholics (65 percent) and minority Protestants (68 percent). Sixty percent of white evangelical Protestants and 49 percent of white mainline Protestants share this view.
Roughly 1-in-4 (26 percent) Americans and 27 percent of sports fans overall say that God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event. Approximately 7-in-10 Americans (71 percent) and sports fans (69 percent) disagree.
Popularity of Football
Roughly half (49 percent) of Americans say they are very likely to watch the Super Bowl this year, and an additional 23 percent say they are somewhat likely to watch the game. By a significant margin, respondents say that football is their favorite sport to watch. Forty percent of respondents report that it is their favorite sport, holding steady after 39 percent reported the same thing in 2014. Basketball is the favorite sport to watch for 12 percent of Americans, followed by 11 percent for baseball, eight percent for soccer, six percent for ice hockey, and five percent for auto racing.
The Danger of Football
Although two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans believe that football is more dangerous than other sports, three-quarters (76 percent) say that if they had a young son, they would allow him to play. Twenty-two percent would not allow their son to play football. Young adults (age 18-29) are more likely than their older counterparts (age 65+) to say that they would allow their son to play football (87 percent compared to 59 percent).
Full Report Available Online
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) RDD telephone interviews conducted between January 14 and 18, 2015, by professional interviewers under the direction of SSRS. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,012 adults, ages 18 or older, living in the United States (512 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.6 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.
Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.