For many Americans, sports have long been an escape. We step away from the troubles of the world at large in order to live, at least in our minds, out there on the gridiron, or the pitch or the court. We forget about the tumult and the turbulence of the human race and we watch extremely dedicated and skilled individuals play a game.
That is why, when politics and social justice began to enter the literal arena, many Americans began to tune out. We saw this as an infringement of real life into our relaxation, and we looked away.
A new poll shows us just how widespread this sentiment has become.
Of those who watch sports on TV, about 11 percent said they now watch more as a result of political and social messaging. However, 34.5 percent, more than one-third, said they are watching less. The vast majority, roughly 56.3 percent, said they watch about the same amount regardless of political or social messaging.
Ratings across all major sports were down in 2020, the result of a range of factors including time-shifted sports calendars and the presidential election, but it’s clear from this poll that politics and social justice had some impact on the ratings decline.
Men were more likely to turn away from sports as a result of social messages; 37.6 percent of males said they had tuned in less, as opposed to 28 percent of females. Meanwhile, 13 percent of men said they watched more sports in the wake of social justice movements, as opposed to only 7 percent of women.
And, when split down political lines, there was a stark difference to be noted.
The breakdown by political party runs as might be expected given the tenor of the national conversation around sports. About 13.7 percent of Democrats say they watched more sports in the wake of social justice movements, while 19 percent watched less. On the other hand, only about 8.6 percent of Republicans watched more sports, while 53 percent watched less once social justice messaging became prominent.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, ratings and revenue were down sharply for many sports, most notably the NFL, where the controversy regarding Colin Kaepernick’s choice to kneel during the National Anthem became a widespread topic of conversation.
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