Polling released on Oct. 26 indicates that U.S. voters' opinion of the National Football League has dropped by double digits over the last four years. The drop in approval was largely fueled by Republicans and white men.
A Fox News survey found that 46 percent of registered voters viewed the NFL positively, while 41 percent viewed it negatively. In October 2013, the same polling group found that 64 percent of voters viewed the NFL favorably while only 19 percent disapproved, Fox News reports.
"If the NFL were a political candidate, alarm bells would be going off in campaign headquarters," said Fox News pollster Chris Anderson.
In August 2016, the NFL became a source of national debate when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting during the U.S. national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice. On Sept. 22, President Donald Trump intensified the controversy when he called for football players who knelt during the anthem to be fired.
"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say: 'Get the son of a b***h off the field right now. Out! He's fired. He's fired!'" Trump said during an Alabama campaign rally, according to The Guardian.
The survey results indicated that positive feelings towards the NFL have dipped slightly among Democrats and nonwhites while plunging among Republicans and white males since 2013.
According to the poll, 60 percent of Democrats viewed the NFL positively while 64 percent of nonwhites felt similarly. Meanwhile, only 27 percent of Republicans had a favorable opinion of the league; 65 percent of Republican respondents said they had an unfavorable opinion. Approval for the NFL among whites and men had dropped by 23 percentage points since 2013.
The survey queried voters on how they viewed NFL players' protests against police brutality and found that 44 percent of respondents believed that kneeling during the anthem was an appropriate form of protest, while 52 percent said it was inappropriate.
The poll found a sharply partisan divide: 67 percent of Democrats said that kneeling during the anthem was an appropriate protest, while 88 percent of Republicans said it was inappropriate. The racial divide was also significant: 60 percent of whites disapproved of the protests, while 61 percent of nonwhites thought that they were a valid form of expression. The gender gap was slightly narrower, as 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women said the protests were inappropriate.
On Oct. 17, NFL officials met with league players and union representatives to discuss the protests. Officials decided that they would not penalize players for kneeling during the anthem and that they would provide financial contributions to causes that they were advocating for, The New York Times reports.
Trump blasted the decision on social media, tweeting out that allowing players to kneel during the anthem amounted to "Total disrespect for our great country!"
On Oct. 24, an HBO/Marist Poll found that 68 percent of national adults believed that Trump was wrong to call for NFL players who kneeled during the anthem to be fired; only 28 percent supported the president's position, Yahoo Sports reports.