Ever since it was launched in February 2006, the Seton Hall Sports Poll has never been afraid to address sensitive issues where sports cross over the threshold of the literal and metaphorical white lines. This has led to the sports poll being cited by sports and cable news networks like ESPN and Fox News and recently, being used as evidence to push forward a point about anthem protests by President Donald Trump’s spokesperson Steve Cheung.
Those involved with the Sports Poll clearly do not run from controversial issues, but they look for them.
“I can’t really ever remember backing off an issue,” Rick Gentile, director of the Sports Poll, said. “We don’t want to ask questions like ‘who do you think is going to win the World Series?’ I don’t really care for the answer to that question. Or ‘do you think Aaron Judge will hit 60 home runs?’. We’ve never covered those questions.”
Instead, the Sports Poll has addressed issues that question people’s moral stances on certain issues that hold significance beyond the outcome of a game or a stat line. Issues such as the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State have illustrated the polls’ willingness to ask tough questions.
Last week, the questions on NFL players’ anthem protests and Colin Kaepernick’s employment revealed what many might already know- how America is divided racially.
The poll, which had a 3.4 percent margin of error, revealed that 84 percent of respondents felt players had a right to protest; however only 35 percent felt not standing for the national anthem was an acceptable form of protest. But it is inside that 35 percent where America’s racial divide is broadly depicted, as 70 percent of African-Americans saw not standing as an acceptable form of protest, compared to only 22 percent of white respondents.
A similar dichotomy can be seen in a question that asked why respondents believe Kaepernick is currently out of a job. Among African-Americans, 81 percent felt it was due to his protest, whereas only seven percent felt it was because he is not good enough. Among white respondents, the number was down to 41 percent who felt it was because of his protest, and up to 22 percent who felt it was because he is not good enough.
“Why we still have racial divide, God only knows,” Gentile said. “It’s depressing, it’s distressing, it’s all those things. But clearly we still do.”
The identifiable divide in responses is understandable to Gentile, who sees African-Americans coming at the questions surrounding protests differently than the rest of the public. This is because, according to Gentile, most of the public has lost sight of the protests’ original meaning, but African-Americans have not: that the issue of anthem protests, which was already politicized, has changed from one of civil rights to one of pro-Trump vs. pro-NFL.
“Trump saying it’s not about race…well, that’s so completely untrue when you consider the original reason for the protest”, Gentile said. “It’s exactly about race. And I think that African-Americans have not lost sight of the original reasons of the protest. I suspect, based on the results we’ve seen, that the rest of the population has taken the stance of pro-Trump or pro-NFL, but [the original intent of the protest] has lost its meaning in a very real way.”
The numbers were not all negative for Gentile, who found his silver lining in the fact that 84 percent of Americans supported the players’ right to protest social injustice.
Ben Gillo, a junior marketing major, shared that sentiment in supporting the players’ right to protest.
“The players have a right to express how they feel,” Gillo said. “Everything that is going on, especially given the fact that they have a voice like they do…to be able to use it in a way, they are just taking a knee. They’re not doing anything destructive.
“I get the other side too, like, you fight in war to represent that flag, so I understand also the veterans, who actually fought for that flag, for them to be disrespected. But at the same time, the flag is supposed to represent freedom, democracy and all these different things, and the players feel like they don’t have those rights, so that’s why they’re protesting.”
The next poll will be conducted on Oct. 23-25, and Gentile hopes that by then, the concern over whether a player takes a knee for the national anthem is dissipated.
“There might not be a controversial issue on Oct. 23,” Gentile said. “Who knows, right? And God help us if this is still a controversial issue.”
James Justice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.