In another gauge of the evolving views of racial injustice in the United States, a new poll found that more than half of Americans are now OK with protests by NFL players during the national anthem.

The poll was conducted by Yahoo Sports and YouGov on Tuesday and Wednesday, and it surveyed 1,570 Americans on what Yahoo Sports described Thursday as “a range of topics, including police brutality, racial injustice and presidential evaluation.” The poll of adult U.S. residents was conducted online, and it had a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.

Eric Reid, Colin Kaepernick

San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game in 2016. /Marcio Jose Sanchez

Among the questions was this one: “Is it OK for NFL players to kneel during the national anthem to protest police killings of African Americans?”

According to Yahoo Sports, 52% of respondents said that it was, compared to just 36% who said it was not (12% reportedly replied that they were not sure). That represents a shift from as recently as August 2018, when an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll in which 54% of respondents said it is inappropriate for pro football players to protest racial inequality in the U.S. by kneeling during the national anthem, while 43% said it was appropriate.

A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll taken in October 2016 found that 53% said it was “never appropriate” to take a knee during the anthem, with 42% saying it was sometimes appropriate to do so.

The issue of NFL players protesting racial injustice and police brutality burst onto the national stage in 2016, amid a presidential race, after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick inspired other NFL players to stage demonstrations during pregame renditions of the anthem.

In October 2016, the Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 54% of American adults disapproved of the protests, while just 38% approved.

After President Donald Trump sharply criticized the protests in 2017, including encouraging NFL team owners to get any “son of a bitch off the field” who took a knee during the anthem, the league saw huge numbers of players, and even some coaches and owners, stage demonstrations before games. That number had sharply dwindled by the 2019 season, but the societal issues to which Kaepernick and others sought to bring attention have been at the forefront of the national conversation since the death in late May of George Floyd, unarmed black man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer.

Corporations have been under increased pressure to not only take strong stands against racism but to promise positive action, and on Thursday the NFL said it was pledging to contribute $250 million over 10 years to “combat systemic racism and support the battle against the ongoing and historic injustices faced by African Americans.”

Last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell declared that his league was “wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.”

“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” Goodell said. ” . . . We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.”

One potential outcome of Thursday’s poll results is that they might help convince an NFL team the national climate has changed enough that signing Kaepernick, who has made it clear he still wants to play, could actually be good for business or at least not spark a major backlash from fans.

In a glimmer of hope for the now-32-year-old quarterback, Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll said an unnamed NFL team called him Thursday to ask about Kaepernick. Carroll, whose team was the only one that showed even a semblance of interest in Kaepernick in 2017 and 2018, had called the latter “a symbol of courage” last week while asserting that “we owe a tremendous amount to him” for his activism.

“I regret that didn’t happen in some fashion,” Carroll said Thursday of not having signed Kaepernick in the past.

“I wish we would have contributed to it, because again, he deserved to play,” added the coach, whose team re-signed Geno Smith last month to be the primary backup to quarterback Russell Wilson. ” . . . When you look back, I felt like we missed the opportunity.”

Some teams could still be waiting for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, an influential figure in league circles, to weigh in on the death of Floyd and the topic of racial injustice, according to ESPN. The network reported Thursday that an NFL head coach said “all eyes” are on the 77-year-old Jones.

“He is the most vocal owner in the league,” ESPN’s Dianna Russini said of Jones after speaking with the coach. “And not only is he the most vocal leader, there are numerous owners that listen to him. He mentors them. What Jerry does, they do. And until he makes that move, the dominoes can’t start falling.”

When asked about their views on the Black Lives Matter movement, more than half of respondents in the Yahoo Sports-YouGov poll, a total of 57%, they viewed either had a favorable or somewhat favorable opinion. One quarter said the country was “generally headed in the right direction,” while 63% felt it was “off on the wrong track.”


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