Morality in the Sports World: Pro Football Associated More Strongly than Other Pro Sports with Negative Moral Values

    New York , N.Y. – October 8, 2014 – There’s much to love about the sporting world. In addition to entertainment value, pro sports can, at their best, showcase exemplary athleticism, camaraderie, pride, and humility. That said, there are also many reasons Americans might take issue with the professional sports world. Pro football has been mired in scandal lately, with both head injuries and domestic violence grabbing headlines. Pro basketball has had its share of negative press over the years, most recently focused on team owners but frequently directed at players as well. Meanwhile, baseball has had a series of steroid scandals. The list goes on – whether it’s league wide incidents or just the actions of a single athlete, the sports world is rocked by scandals on a regular basis, painting players, owners, governing bodies, and even fans in negative lights. But which sports do Americans have the highest and lowest opinions of? And whose responsibility is it to enforce some level of moral standards?

    When asked which of a list of popular U.S. professional sports they most associate with negative moral values, football (52%) is America’s top selection by a nearly two-to-one margin over basketball (28%), the next most cited sport. Boxing (25%) and wrestling (23%) round out the second tier.

    These are some of the results of The Harris Poll¨ of 2,016 adults surveyed online between September 29 and October 1, 2014.

    Americans 55 and over (59% ages 55-64, 60% ages 65+) are more likely than those 18-54 (45% ages 18-34, 51% ages 35-44, 48% ages 45-54) to cite football as among the pro sports they most associate with negative moral values, but it’s perhaps more important to recognize that football is the number one response – by a wide margin – across all age groups. Meanwhile, gender lines prove to be no line at all, with 51% of men and 53% of women pointing to pro football. What’s more, interest in pro football makes little difference in this perception, with 51% of those who follow it and 53% of those who don’t expressing the same sentiment.

    Further down the list, 14% of U.S. adults select baseball as one of the pro sports they most associate with negative moral values, while 13% point to hockey, 12% identify mixed martial arts and 9% cite auto racing. Very few single out golf (3%), soccer (2%) or tennis (1%), while 16% say they don’t associate any U.S. professional sports with negative moral values.

    It’s not all bad

    On the bright side, many Americans do have sports they associate with positive moral values. 23% each point to pro tennis and golf, while 22% select baseball. Meanwhile, just over one in ten cite pro soccer (13%), pro football (13%), mixed martial arts (11%), and pro basketball (11%) while just under one in ten point to auto racing (9%) and hockey (7%). That said, a third of Americans (33%) don’t associate any U.S. professional sports with positive moral values – a sentiment that comes in strongest from women (36%, vs. 29% of men) and Americans ages 35+ (36% ages 35-54, 42% ages 55-64 and 37% ages 65+ vs. 20% among those ages 18-34).

    Who’s got the ball?

    When asked which parties should be held responsible for enforcing moral standards within professional sports in the U.S., nearly two thirds of Americans look to the players/athletes (66%), the overall organizing or governing body for each sport (66%) and the team owners (65%), while over half point to the coaches (56%). One third of Americans call out the sponsors (32%), while one fourth say the fans should be held responsible (24%).

    • The 65-and-older set is more likely than their younger counterparts to look to the overall organizing or governing body for the sport (77% ages 65+ vs. 68% ages 55-64, 63% ages 35-54 and 60% ages 18-34) and the team owners (72% vs. 66%, 64% and 61%, respectively) as parties who should be held responsible.
    • 18-34 year olds, on the other hand, are more likely than their older counterparts to point a finger at the fans (31% ages 18-34 vs. 24% ages 35-44, 18% ages 45-54, 24% ages 55-64, 19% ages 65+).

    Unfavorable comparisons

    Two-thirds of Americans say the overall level of morality in professional sports today is worse than the level of morality seen in professional sports 10 years ago (67%). Nearly two-thirds say the same when comparing today’s level of morality to that displayed in professional sports 50 years ago, with 65% saying it is worse today and over four in ten (43%) specifying that it is a great deal worse.

    The current state of pro sports also fares poorly against its scholastic counterparts, with nearly two-thirds saying it’s worse than the level of morality seen in college athletics (64%), and over half saying it’s worse than the level seen in high school athletics (57%).

    Stepping into other areas of public life, just over two-thirds say the overall level of morality in professional sports today is worse than the levels seen among U.S. politicians and among celebrities in general (68% each).

    The bottom line

    Ultimately, Americans are somewhat split on whether pro athletes should be held to higher legal standards than average citizens, with 55% believing they should and 45% disagreeing with this.

    Only a third of U.S. adults feel public figures in sports are setting a good example for children (32%), with 18-34 year olds most likely to agree with this sentiment while the 65 and older set is least likely to do so (46% ages 18-34, 31% ages 35-44, 29% ages 45-54, 27% ages 55-64, 20% ages 65+).

    Meanwhile, a small but troubling percentage of Americans (17%) indicate that they don’t care what happens off-field, as long as their team wins.

    In the end, professional sports are businesses; as their consumers, fans do have some measure of power. Three-fourths of Americans (74%) believe fans who disapprove of actions by the governing body of a sport should vote with their eyeballs by not watching it. So – with so many Americans having a low opinion of the moral values on display in pro football, and such a strong majority saying fans should opt out if they don’t approve of what they’re seeing, surely football interest and viewership must be experiencing a downturn. Except that it isn’t – the 55% of Americans who say they follow pro football is on par with the 54% who said the same last year, and TV viewership is up this season.

     

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    TABLE 1a

    U.S. PROFESSIONAL SPORTS MOST ASSOCIATE WITH POSITIVE MORAL VALUES

    By Age, Gender & Parents with children <18 in household

    The following questions are about professional sports in the United States. Please think of American professional sports when answering the questions in this section. Which of the following popular U.S. professional sports do you most associate with positive moral values? You may choose up to three responses.

    Base: U.S. adults

    Total

    Age

    Gender

    18-34

    35-44

    45-54

    55-64

    65+

    Male

    Female

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Tennis

    23

    25

    21

    25

    19

    26

    26

    21

    Golf

    23

    20

    20

    20

    23

    34

    28

    19

    Baseball

    22

    26

    20

    19

    21

    23

    25

    20

    Soccer

    13

    23

    15

    8

    6

    8

    14

    13

    Football

    13

    20

    13

    13

    6

    8

    14

    12

    Mixed Martial Arts

    11

    18

    9

    8

    8

    7

    11

    11

    Basketball

    11

    21

    10

    8

    5

    4

    13

    9

    Auto Racing

    9

    8

    7

    10

    12

    10

    10

    8

    Hockey

    7

    8

    8

    8

    7

    5

    8

    7

    Boxing

    4

    9

    2

    2

    2

     

    5

    3

    Wrestling

    2

    4

    3

    2

    2

     

    3

    2

    Other

    1

    2

    1

    1

    1

    1

    1

    2

    I don’t associate any U.S. professional sports with positive moral values

    33

    20

    36

    36

    42

    37

    29

    36

    Not sure

    8

    8

    8

    9

    7

    7

    6

    9

    Note: Multiple responses allowed

    indicates percentage is <.05%

     

    TABLE 1b

    U.S. PROFESSIONAL SPORTS MOST ASSOCIATE WITH POSITIVE MORAL VALUES

    By Sports Followed/Not Followed

    Base: All adults

    Football

    Basketball

    Baseball

    Soccer

    Tennis

    Golf

    Auto Racing

    Hockey

    Wrestling

    Mixed Martial Arts

    Boxing

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Pro sport indicated in top row

    19

    5

    26

    5

    36

    13

    44

    9

    53

    18

    60

    17

    39

    4

    27

    3

    17

    1

    42

    8

    18

    2


     

    TABLE 2a

    U.S. PROFESSIONAL SPORTS MOST ASSOCIATE WITH NEGATIVE MORAL VALUES

    By Age & Gender

    Which of the following popular U.S. professional sports do you most associate with negative moral values? You may choose up to three responses.

    Base: U.S. adults

    Total

    Age

    Gender

    18-34

    35-44

    45-54

    55-64

    65+

    Male

    Female

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Football

    52

    45

    51

    48

    59

    60

    51

    53

    Basketball

    28

    22

    29

    30

    31

    29

    30

    25

    Boxing

    25

    24

    25

    18

    27

    28

    27

    23

    Wrestling

    23

    28

    22

    18

    20

    21

    23

    22

    Baseball

    14

    12

    16

    15

    15

    15

    16

    13

    Hockey

    13

    14

    13

    11

    14

    10

    12

    13

    Mixed Martial Arts

    12

    14

    14

    10

    13

    9

    16

    9

    Auto Racing

    9

    12

    6

    10

    7

    8

    9

    9

    Golf

    3

    4

    4

    2

    3

    2

    2

    4

    Soccer

    2

    1

    3

    2

    2

    1

    2

    1

    Tennis

    1

    2

    2

     

    1

     

    1

    1

    Other

    1

    1

     

    2

     

    1

    1

    1

    I don’t associate any U.S. professional sports with negative moral values

    16

    18

    16

    17

    13

    13

    15

    16

    Not sure

    10

    9

    9

    13

    10

    9

    9

    11

    Note: Multiple responses allowed

    indicates percentage is <.05%

     

    TABLE 2b

    U.S. PROFESSIONAL SPORTS MOST ASSOCIATE WITH NEGATIVE MORAL VALUES

    By Sports Followed/Not Followed

    Base: All adults

    Football

    Basketball

    Baseball

    Soccer

    Tennis

    Golf

    Auto Racing

    Hockey

    Wrestling

    Mixed Martial Arts

    Boxing

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    Yes

    No

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Pro sport indicated in top row

    51

    53

    27

    28

    15

    13

    2

    2

    1

    1

    3

    3

    4

    10

    9

    14

    23

    23

    18

    12

    30

    24


    TABLE 3

    WHO SHOULD BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR ENFORCING MORAL STANDARDS

    By Age & Gender

    Which parties do you think should be held responsible for enforcing moral standards within professional sports in the U.S.? Please select all that apply.

    Base: U.S. adults

    Total

    Age

    Gender

    18-34

    35-44

    45-54

    55-64

    65+

    Male

    Female

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    The players/athletes

    66

    65

    67

    68

    66

    68

    65

    68

    The overall organizing/governing body for the sport

    66

    60

    63

    63

    68

    77

    65

    66

    The team owners

    65

    61

    64

    64

    66

    72

    63

    66

    The coaches

    56

    58

    57

    54

    54

    57

    51

    61

    The sponsors

    32

    34

    30

    30

    29

    38

    30

    34

    The fans

    24

    31

    24

    18

    24

    19

    24

    25

    Someone else

    3

    3

    3

    3

    2

    1

    4

    1

    No one

    7

    9

    7

    9

    5

    2

    6

    7

    Note: Multiple responses allowed

     

    TABLE 4a

    OVERALL STATE OF MORALITY IN U.S. PRO SPORTS BETTER OR WORSE THANÉ

    Summary Grid

    Thinking of the general state of professional sports in the U.S. today, what do you think of the overall level of morality within them now when compared against the level of morality seenÉ?

    Base: U.S. Adults

    WORSE (NET)

    A great deal worse

    Somewhat worse

    BETTER (NET)

    Somewhat better

    A great deal better

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Among U.S. politicians

    68

    36

    32

    32

    24

    7

    Among celebrities in general

    68

    25

    43

    32

    27

    5

    In professional sports 10 years ago

    67

    20

    47

    33

    27

    6

    In professional sports 50 years ago

    65

    43

    22

    35

    19

    16

    In college athletics

    64

    16

    48

    36

    31

    5

    In high school athletics

    57

    20

    38

    43

    35

    7

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 4b

    OVERALL STATE OF MORALITY IN U.S. PRO SPORTS WORSE THANÉ

    Summary of Worse Ratings – By Age & Gender

    Thinking of the general state of professional sports in the U.S. today, what do you think of the overall level of morality within them now when compared against the level of morality seenÉ?

    Base: U.S. Adults

    Total

    Age

    Gender

    18-34

    35-44

    45-54

    55-64

    65+

    Male

    Female

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Among U.S. politicians

    Worse (NET)

    68

    62

    68

    72

    71

    73

    64

    72

    A great deal worse

    36

    29

    31

    40

    38

    47

    31

    40

    Among celebrities in general

    Worse (NET)

    68

    63

    63

    67

    73

    74

    65

    71

    A great deal worse

    25

    21

    26

    27

    27

    28

    23

    27

    In professional sports 10 years ago

    Worse (NET)

    67

    57

    69

    66

    76

    73

    65

    69

    A great deal worse

    20

    13

    22

    21

    24

    22

    18

    21

    In professional sports 50 years ago

    Worse (NET)

    65

    56

    68

    65

    72

    72

    64

    67

    A great deal worse

    43

    30

    47

    45

    52

    51

    42

    44

    In college athletics

    Worse (NET)

    64

    52

    65

    69

    71

    70

    62

    65

    A great deal worse

    16

    13

    17

    21

    15

    16

    15

    17

    In high school athletics

    Worse (NET)

    57

    51

    59

    60

    64

    57

    57

    58

    A great deal worse

    20

    16

    23

    21

    22

    21

    20

    20

     

    TABLE 5a

    AGREE/DSAGREE WITH SPORTS STATEMENTS

    Summary Grid

    How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Base: U.S. Adults

    AGREE (NET)

    Strongly agree

    Somewhat agree

    DISAGREE (NET)

    Somewhat disagree

    Strongly disagree

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Fans who disapprove of actions by the governing body of a sport should vote with their eyeballs by not watching.

    74

    33

    41

    26

    17

    9

    Professional athletes should be held to higher legal standards than average citizens.

    55

    18

    37

    45

    27

    18

    Public figures in sports are setting a good example for children.

    32

    7

    25

    68

    39

    29

    I don’t care what happens off-field, as long as my team wins.

    17

    4

    12

    83

    28

    55

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 5b

    AGREE/DSAGREE WITH SPORTS STATEMENTS

    Summary of Agree (NET) – By Age & Gender

    How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

    Base: U.S. Adults

    Total

    Age

    Gender

    18-34

    35-44

    45-54

    55-64

    65+

    Male

    Female

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Fans who disapprove of actions by the governing body of a sport should vote with their eyeballs by not watching.

    74

    67

    67

    74

    82

    82

    77

    71

    Professional athletes should be held to higher legal standards than average citizens.

    55

    50

    51

    54

    61

    62

    52

    57

    Public figures in sports are setting a good example for children.

    32

    46

    31

    29

    27

    20

    35

    30

    I don’t care what happened off-field, as long as my team wins.

    17

    27

    21

    15

    9

    4

    21

    13

     

    TABLE 6

    PROFESSIONAL SPORTS FOLLOW

    By Age & Gender

    The following questions are about professional sports in the United States. Please think of American professional sports when answering the questions in this section. Which of the following popular U.S. professional sports do you most associate with positive moral values? You may choose up to three responses.

    Base: U.S. adults

    Total

    Age

    Gender

    18-34

    35-44

    45-54

    55-64

    65+

    Male

    Female

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Football

    55

    57

    57

    59

    52

    51

    65

    46

    Baseball

    42

    35

    45

    40

    50

    41

    52

    32

    Basketball

    29

    34

    35

    28

    25

    18

    39

    19

    Hockey

    18

    19

    23

    19

    17

    14

    23

    13

    Auto Racing

    14

    10

    12

    20

    17

    15

    17

    12

    Tennis

    14

    15

    17

    16

    14

    10

    18

    11

    Golf

    14

    10

    15

    13

    14

    22

    18

    10

    Soccer

    13

    19

    16

    11

    10

    8

    16

    11

    Boxing

    9

    14

    10

    8

    7

    4

    12

    6

    Mixed Martial Arts

    8

    13

    10

    6

    5

    3

    11

    5

    Wrestling

    7

    10

    10

    6

    4

    1

    9

    4

    None of these

    24

    22

    22

    21

    27

    31

    16

    32

    Note: Multiple responses allowed

     

    Methodology

    This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between September 29 and October 1, 2014 among 2,016 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

    Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

    The Harris Poll #93, October 8, 2014

    By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll