Sixty-nine percent (69%) of voters nationwide believe freedom of speech is Absolutely Essential. Another 23% believe it is Very Important. In a deeply polarized political era, it’s encouraging—and amazing–to find that nine-out-of-ten Americans recognize this basic freedom is so important.
However, agreeing that free speech is important doesn’t mean agreeing with the way others use that freedom. A prime example of this in today’s world has been the intense debate about NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.
It’s become a hot button issue because playing the national anthem is a deeply embedded part of the culture surrounding sports in America. Seventy-nine percent (79%) of NFL fans say that playing the national anthem is an important part of an NFL game. Just over half Strongly Agree with that notion.
So, when Colin Kaepernick first disrupted that cultural norm, people noticed. When other players joined him, the protests seemed to sometimes generate more coverage and interest than the game itself. The league has very publicly struggled to find a solution that the players can accept and also addresses the reality that six-out-of-ten fans disapprove of the protest.
If you listen to the loudest voices and the political echoes surrounding this debacle, it seems as if there is nothing upon which the opposing voices can agree. But at ScottRasmussen.com, we believe that there is far more common ground in American society than in American politics. We try to find that common ground by asking questions from a different perspective that can provide a richer understanding of the topic at hand.
In the case of football and the national anthem, we decided to focus on a different aspect of the game experience. Do fans approve of the teams’ continuing to sell concessions like beer and popcorn while it is being played? Nearly half of all NFL fans and most voters nationwide disapprove. In other words, not only do they think it would be nice if the players would simply stand to respect the national anthem, they also think it would be nice if the teams’ stopped selling for a moment to show the same respect.
And, it should be noted, most Americans seem to understand what both sides are trying to say. The players say they are taking a stand for justice and 67% of voters agree that the United States today does not provide liberty and justice for all. There may be disagreement on the details and how far short we fall, but there is a widespread recognition that all of us have work to do before our country fully lives up to its highest ideals.
At the same time, 84% believe the United States is a land of opportunity. That very fact is what gives the affluent football players the opportunity to be heard. All of us are fortunate to live in a nation founded upon the noble ideals of freedom, equality and self-governance.
While freedom of speech is sometimes uncomfortable, it remains essential. America’s football fans seem to appreciate that fact in perhaps the most interesting finding from our survey. We offered them a choice: stop playing the national anthem to avoid all the distractions or play the anthem and allow the protests to continue. Sixty-three percent (63%) of NFL fans said play the anthem.