America’s Most Divided Sport: Polarization and Inequality in Attitudes about Youth Football

Andrew M. Lindner
Daniel Hawkins, University of Nebraska at Omaha

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Football may be America’s most popular sport, but with growing evidence of the risk of sport-associated concussions, some adults are reconsidering which sports to encourage children to play. Using data from a nationally representative sample of 958 respondents, we examine how political party, belief in patriotic displays in sport, attention to concussion news, social class, and race are associated with support for children playing each of the five major U.S. sports: baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, and football. Our findings suggest that unlike other sports, attitudes about youth participation in football are divided by views on patriotism in sport, age, race, education, and attention to concussion news. For many Americans, football is connected to participation in a civil religion, which celebrates national pride and respect for the military. We argue that child safety advocates who aim to steer children away from football must grapple with the deeper cultural and identity-based framework associated with the sport.