Home > Press Releases > One-Quarter Say God will Determine the Super Bowl’s Winner—but Nearly Half Say God Rewards Devout Athletes
One-Quarter Say God will Determine the Super Bowl’s Winner—but Nearly Half Say God Rewards Devout Athletes

And as the NFL expands efforts for female inclusion, seven in ten men say women can effectively coach professional football teams

WASHINGTON – Less than a week before the New England Patriots take on the Atlanta Falcons, a new survey released today finds Americans believe God is more likely to reward individual faithful players than to determine the fate of entire teams. Only one-quarter (25 percent) of Americans say God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event, but close to half (49 percent) agree that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success. White evangelical Protestants are more likely than the public to answer affirmatively on both accounts: More than one-third (36 percent) agree God helps determine a game’s outcome, and more than six in ten (62 percent) agree God rewards devout athletes.

PRRI, a nonpartisan research organization, conducted the survey among 1,013 adults between January 18-22, 2017. The survey gauges Americans’ favorite sports to watch, concerns about women coaching men’s professional sports, whether athletes should make public statements about political issues and faith, and views on whether professional athletes should be allowed to use marijuana.

Divine Intervention in Sporting Events

“Americans overall seem to hold what might be called a ‘Providence Light’ theology when it comes to sports,” says PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones. “While half of Americans believe God may function as a kind of performance enhancer for religious athletes, only one-quarter believe God actually throws the game to one side or the other.”

Relatively few Americans who are fans of a particular team appeal to a higher power in support of their team or worry about whether their team has been cursed. Fewer than three in ten (28 percent) sports fans have ever prayed for God to help their team, and even fewer (20 percent) have ever felt that their team has been cursed.

Women’s Visibility in Sports

“Teams that hire women coaches are unlikely to face serious blowback from the public or from fans,” says PRRI Research Director Daniel Cox. “More than seven in ten (72 percent) Americans say women can be as effective as men in coaching professional football teams—and majorities of both men and women share this view.”

Men and women are equally as likely to reject the notion that it is not appropriate for women to coach men’s professional sports teams (76 percent vs. 77 percent, respectively), and equally as likely to say women can be just as effective as men at coaching professional football teams (71 percent vs. 72 percent, respectively).

The public today is more supportive of allowing women sports reporters to conduct interviews in the locker rooms of male athletes. Close to half (49 percent) say they should be allowed in to interview male athletes in locker rooms. In 1990, fewer than one in four (23 percent) said female journalists should be granted access. Notably, men are more likely than women to say female journalists should be allowed into male athletes’ locker rooms to get interviews (54 percent vs. 44 percent, respectively).

Public Statements of Politics and Faith

Partisan divisions are evident on the issue of politically active athletes. Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to say it bothers them when professional athletes make public statements about political issues (57 percent vs. 27 percent, respectively). In contrast, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Republicans approve of athletes expressing their faith publicly by thanking God during or after a sporting event, while only 44 percent of Democrats say the same. Thirty-two percent of Republicans and a slim majority (51 percent) of Democrats say such proclamations of faith do not matter to them.

Among the findings:

  • Marijuana usage: Americans are split along partisan lines over athletes’ use of marijuana. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Republicans say professional athletes should not be allowed to use marijuana even if it is legal in their state. Only 35 percent of Democrats—and 43 percent of the public—agree.
  • Participation trophies: An overwhelming majority (62 percent) of the public say that only kids who win a sporting event should receive a trophy. Notably, majorities of blacks (52 percent) and Hispanics (51 percent) say all kids who participate should get a trophy.
  • Favorite sport: Football remains America’s favorite sport to watch, followed distantly by basketball and baseball (39 percent vs. 12 percent vs. 10 percent, respectively).

The topline questionnaire, full methodology, and additional findings and analysis are available here: https://www.prri.org/research/poll-super-bowl-women-sports-god-athletes-marijuana/.


The survey was designed and conducted by PRRI. The survey was made possible by a generous grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) RDD telephone interviews conducted between January 18, 2017 and January 22, 2017 by professional interviewers under the direction of SSRS. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,013 adults 18 years of age or older living in the United States (604 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. The design effect for the survey is 1.4.

PRRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.