Yahoo News/YouGov poll: Majority of Americans now support NFL players' right to protest

The vast, sweeping changes now covering America have impacted how the public views one of the most contentious issues sports has seen in decades: the right of athletes to protest. A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll has found that a significantly larger number of Americans are now fine with NFL sideline protests, compared to 2016 when they first entered the public discussion. 

Then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kickstarted the protest movement in 2016 when he knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality and systemic racism. At the time, Kaepernick found few allies among the American people; a Yahoo News/YouGov poll at that time found only 28 percent of Americans then considered his actions “appropriate.” 

The next year, President Donald Trump leveled attacks directly at Kaepernick and other protesters; many NFL players responded by staging protests of their own. Even so, that wasn’t enough to move the needle significantly in terms of public persuasion. In 2018, according to another Yahoo News/YouGov poll, only 35 percent agreed with Kaepernick’s right to protest. 

Colin Kaepernick, seen here in November 2019, remains a polarizing figure. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

In the wake of nationwide demonstrations in support of Black Lives Matter and similar protests, a majority of Americans, 52 percent, now agree that it is “OK for NFL players to kneel during the national anthem to protest police killings of African Americans.” Now, 36 percent of respondents say it’s inappropriate to do so. (The remaining 12 percent answered “not sure.”)

For the question “Is it OK for NFL players to kneel during the national anthem to protest police killings of African Americans?” both male and female respondents agreed that it was, by a margin of 52 percent to 37 percent (male) and 52 percent to 34 percent (female). Younger respondents tended to be more favorable to the idea, with 68 percent of those 18-29 agreeing that it was. That number steadily declined to 36 percent of respondents over 65.

Self-described Democrats strongly favored the right to protest, at 77 percent, while only 20 percent of Republicans, and 20 percent of self-described Trump voters, answered in the affirmative. Along racial lines, 77 percent of blacks, 57 percent of Hispanics, and 47 percent of whites answered positively. Among respondents with incomes of more than $100,000, 63 percent agreed with the right to protest, while 49 percent of respondents with incomes of less than $50,000 agreed.

In response to the question “Did you support or oppose Colin Kaepernick when he protested racial injustice by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem starting in 2016?” 42 percent (40 percent of men, 45 percent of women) now say they supported Kaepernick at the time. As with the prior question, support declined with the respondent’s age, and was sharply defined by the respondent’s political party and income.

The poll of 1,570 Americans was conducted June 9 and 10 and covered a range of topics, including police brutality, racial injustice and presidential evaluation.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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