Port: The sports industry got woke, and the fans don't seem to like it at all

The players and their supporters have become so politically strident, such ideological martinets, that they're alienating their fans not just from their political message but from their industry.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick prepares to take the field before an NFL game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, on Oct. 23, 2016. Loren Elliott / REUTERS
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MINOT, N.D. — The polling firm Gallup has been tracking American attitudes about various business and industry sectors for two decades. In their most recent longitudinal survey, they found something interesting about the sports industry.

It's fallen out of favor with Americans, in a big, big way.

To put it in perspective, only the pharmaceutical industry and the federal government are less popular than professional sports right now.

(Big Pharma saw something of a renaissance in this survey. They're still at the bottom of the list, but they're not the worst anymore, since they're beating the feds.)

"The biggest slide, however, has been for the sports industry, with its positive score falling 15 points — from 45% to 30%," Gallup reports .


"The sports industry now has a negative image, on balance, among Americans as a whole, with 30% viewing it positively and 40% negatively, for a -10 net-positive score," the report continues. "This contrasts with the +20 net positive image it enjoyed in 2019, when 45% viewed it positively and 25% negatively."


The survey isn't explicit when it comes to a cause for this slide. It could be the COVID-19 pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on the ability of players to take the field.

Or, and I think this is much more likely, it could be the new move toward left-wing political activism from the players that's proving deeply unpopular.

There is some evidence in the survey for this: "While it's not clear how much the various challenges and controversies swirling around the industry are each responsible for its slide in popularity, it is notable that sports has lost more support from Republicans and independents than from Democrats," the report states. "In fact, Democrats' view of the sports industry has not changed significantly in the past year, while Republicans' has slipped from a +11 net-positive score in 2019 to a net -35 today, and independents' from +26 to -10."

Black Lives Matter supporters might be inclined to pin this on old white men who refuse to get woke, but the data doesn't support that theory either. Though nonwhite survey respondents were more supportive of the sports industry than nonwhites, their approval also fell farther from last year, decreasing 35 points, as opposed to -26 among whites.

Sports approval among women declined farther (-34) than it did among men (-24).

This is all happening in a year when all but three of the measured industries (government, pharmaceuticals and sports) saw a rise in approval. Sports have become so unpopular, they're bucking an otherwise positive trend.


It could be that fans, at least those outside of the political demographic already predisposed to left-wing politics, don't like their sports coverage and sporting events cluttered with preachy jeremiads in words and symbolism.

That might be different if there was anything approaching balance in the political activism taking place in the sports world, but there's not. Like many other cultural arenas in 2020 America, there are certain left-wing political dogmas in sports that participants must adhere to or face ridicule and ostracism.

There are a lot of people who are afraid to stop clapping .

This is a phenomenon that's distinct from the motivations for sports activism.

One can believe, as I do, that the criminal justice system, starting with the cops on the streets, is in dire need of reform while simultaneously believing that Colin Kaepernick is an ignorant, disrespectful blowhard. He, for all his blathering about American authoritarianism, has repeatedly expressed his admiration for a literal dictator .

You can think LeBron James is an excellent basketball player but also a hypocrite for his willingness to go on, at length, about the sins of America while averting his gaze from China — a place where his sport is trendy — which is operating actual concentration camps.

The players and their supporters have become so politically strident, such hypocritical martinets, that they're alienating their fans not just from their political message but from their industry.

In related good news for North Dakota, farming is the most popular industry in America, seeing an 11 point rise since last year.


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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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