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Poll: 84% support NFL players' right to protest

Daniel Roberts

According to a survey conducted this week by Seton Hall University, 84% of Americans surveyed support NFL players’ right to protest—even if they vary on how they feel the protest should be carried out.

16% of respondents say that protesters should be dropped from their team.

The Seton Hall Sports Poll surveyed 845 adults, on cell phones and landlines, from Monday through Wednesday of this week. It has a margin of error of 3.4%.

‘Right to protest’ vs supporting the protest

Of course, supporting the players’ “right to protest” is not the same as being in favor of the specific protest: kneeling during the anthem.

Seton Hall’s poll asked the question this way: Which of these statements do you most agree with? 1. I don’t support the players’ right to protest and believe they should be ordered to stand for the anthem or be dropped from the team if they refuse to stand (16%); 2. I support the players’ right to protest but believe they should stand for the anthem, find a different way to express their political opinions (49%); 3. I support the players’ right to protest and I think not standing for the anthem is an acceptable way to protest (35%).

In other words: 84% of people believe in the players’ right to protest, but only 35% support the specific protest of kneeling during the anthem.

There was a wide racial gap to this question: 70% of African-American respondents said kneeling is an acceptable form of protest, while only 28% of white respondents did.

Last Saturday, at a rally in Alabama, Trump encouraged NFL team owners to fire “son of a bitch” NFL players who kneel during the national anthem: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!'” He also urged fans to walk out of NFL games if players protest during the anthem: “If you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop.” He has also continued to tweet critically about the NFL.

(Update, Oct. 10, 2017: Trump is now going after the NFL’s tax status; he erroneously said that it gets “massive tax breaks.“)

Dallas Cowboys, including Jerry Jones, center, take a knee prior to the national anthem before a game on Oct. 25, 2017. (AP/Matt York)

Opinions on what Kaepernick started

Rick Gentile, director of the poll, tells Yahoo Finance that “with all the hoopla” over Trump’s comments, “the numbers haven’t changed that much from last year on the key question.”

The “key question” he means, in one of Seton Hall’s polls last year, took the form of asking Americans whether they approved of Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem: 47% supported his right to protest but believed it was wrong to not stand during the anthem, and 33% supported his right to protest and supported his form of protest. In other words, a combined 80% supported his right to protest.

One season later, even as more players kneel and President Trump continues to hammer the NFL publicly, the portion of people who support NFL players’ right to protest is unchanged.

Trump or Goodell?

Seton Hall also asked the 845 Americans whether they agree more with President Trump or NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on this feud.

The poll asked it this way: “President Trump has called on NFL owners to fire any player who refuses to stand for the national anthem. Commissioner Roger Goodell and several NFL owners have responded that the president’s comments were divisive.  Whom do you most agree with?” 50% of respondents said Goodell and the owners; 28% said Trump; the rest said either “both,” “neither,” or “no opinion.”

Impact on TV ratings

An important question amidst the controversy over anthem protests is whether TV ratings for the NFL will suffer. TV ratings for the Sunday NFL games have dipped slightly each week so far this season, though in Week 1 it was widely blamed on hurricanes Harvey and Irma and in Week 3 the ratings were up if you included pregame shows.

Seton Hall asked respondents whether they are “watching fewer NFL games this season” and 29% of respondents said yes. Of that group, 47% cited the player protests during the national anthem as the reason.

When Seton Hall asked the same question in November of last year, 25% of respondents said they were watching fewer games because of Kaepernick’s protest. So the portion of people who identify anthem protests as the reason they are watching less football has nearly doubled.

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite. Sportsbook is our sports business video and podcast series.

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