Nike’s decision to feature former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the spokesman for the 30th anniversary of their “Just Do It” ad campaign at the dawn of the football season has rekindled the debate over athlete protests. Kaepernick is widely seen as the face of the current protest movement going back to the fall of 2016 when he decided to kneel during the national anthem to draw attention to police violence against communities of color.
While much of the debate over the issue has centered on whether the protests disrespect the flag or if Kaepernick’s subsequent unemployment is due to owner retribution, understanding where public opinion lies on this issue is important. Public attitudes on this topic reveal a country divided racially and generationally.
Player protests remain divisive across the nation. According to a January PRRI poll, six in ten (60 percent) Americans agree that professional athletes should be required to stand while the anthem is being played, while 36 percent of Americans are opposed to this requirement.
However, there are significant differences between white and black Americans on this issue. While about two-thirds (66 percent) of white Americans agree that athletes should be required to stand while the anthem is being played, less than three in ten (28 percent) of black Americans shared that sentiment.
Similarly in 2017, almost half (45 percent) of white Americans agreed that professional athletes making public statements about political issues bothered them. Just about one-quarter (26 percent) of black Americans shared this sentiment.
Differences within the broader population also fall along generational lines. More than seven in ten (72 percent) seniors (age 65+) say professional athletes should be required to stand during the national anthem, while fewer than half (44 percent) of young people (age 18-29) agree.
Furthermore, when asked about whether professional athletes making public statements about political issues bothered them, 44 percent of seniors agreed, while only 29 percent of young respondents did.
Some have argued that these generational differences help explain why Nike made their decision to feature Kaepernick in their latest campaign. While it may be too early to know whether the campaign will succeed or fail, the decision by the sporting goods manufacturer appears to be paying off.
Nevertheless, athlete protests have demonstrated that the country continues to remain divided on these issues, particularly along racial and generational lines. Understanding these breakdowns are paramount to appreciating the internal social dynamics of the nation at this time.