Even the sports fans are preaching caution on how the games are played as the pandemic trudges into the new year.
Nearly half of Americans think the Super Bowl should be played without fans. And almost as many think fans shouldn’t be allowed at indoor sporting events.
A majority of Americans doesn’t think indoor sports such as basketball should be played right now. A majority also worries that such indoor sports are perpetuating the pandemic by helping to spread the virus.
Meanwhile, about a third of Americans don’t think indoor college sports or college football ought to be proceeding as they have. And they also believe college athletes shouldn’t, at present, be made to travel for their games.
Those are the findings of a new NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist Poll, conducted in conjunction with the Center for Sports Communication at Marist College. (Disclosure: The author is a lecturer at Marist College and the assistant director of its Center for Sports Communication.)
Whereas an October Marist Poll centered around sports demonstrated that the impact of politics on the perception of sports was fairly modest, this one underscores that sports are far from immune from concerns about COVID-19.
The poll, surveying 1,065 adults in early December, revealed that 49 percent of respondents think the Super Bowl should be played without fans, even though it is nearly two months away and plenty of NFL games this season have been held in stadiums with fans present. In fact, 83 percent said that fans either shouldn’t be allowed at all or only with restrictions. A mere 16 percent think fans should be allowed in without restrictions.
Meanwhile, 46 percent of fans believes fans shouldn’t be allowed into indoor sporting events of any kind.
The poll’s results also showed that 56 percent of queried sports fans doesn’t believe indoor sports should even be happening, and the same number were “concerned” or “very concerned” those same indoor sports will contribute to the virus spreading within their communities. That number was a tick higher — 58 percent — among the wider population.
While college sports have carried on more or less as usual, albeit with added protocols and minus the fans, in lots of places, a sizable portion of the respondents believes they shouldn’t be. Thirty percent believes there should be no indoor college sports at all. And 31 percent thinks college football should have been suspended entirely. More than a third, 35 percent, don’t believe traveling to play against other schools should be permitted, presumably meaning they would rather see college sports played in bubbles.
More than half of the poll’s respondents — 58 percent — thought “government officials” should be allowed to place restrictions on playing indoor sports on account of the pandemic. But here a distinct pattern emerged that ran through all the responses: political partisanship.
While 83 percent of self-identified Democrats were fine with the government making that call, only 28 percent of Republicans agreed, while 61 percent of independents sided with the Democrats on leaving the regulation of sports during the pandemic to the government.
In all responses, a heavily partisan through-line divided the respondents on their view of the pandemic and sports. For instance, 71 percent of Republicans believed fans should be allowed into the Super Bowl, whether with restrictions or without them, while 68 percent of Democrats thought they should not under any circumstance.
In the same vein, Republicans were generally less concerned about the danger of the pandemic spreading through sports than Democrats were. Other demographic trends appeared as well. Broadly, women were more worried than men; people in the Northeast and the West were more cautious than people in the South or Midwest. Older respondents were more concerned than young ones — although, in an outlier, the younger Gen Z and Millennial generations also supported the banning of fans at events more strongly. People of color acknowledged being more worried than people who identified as white.
The last sports-themed Marist Poll suggested that the effect of political protest in sports had not, in fact, had much of an impact on declining TV ratings for sports broadcasts during the pandemic, in spite of a narrative to that effect. But this new poll suggests that your political affiliation, geographic location and other elements of your identity do affect how you view sports during the pandemic.
Yet more evidence that sports and politics are inextricable.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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