A majority of Americans say they think it is appropriate for professional athletes to kneel during the national anthem in protest and use their platforms to speak out on social issues, according to a new Washington Post poll.
The survey released on Thursday signals a substantial shift in public opinion about athlete protests in the years since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality.
Fifty-six percent of respondents said kneeling in protest was an appropriate way for athletes to bring attention to racial inequality in the U.S., while just 42 percent said it was inappropriate. An even larger percentage of respondents — 62 percent — said professional athletes should use their platforms to discuss national issues. Just 38 percent said they should not express their views on current events.
Roughly 8 in 10 Black Americans said athletes should speak out, and about 70 percent of adults under 50 said the same.
The findings offer a sharp contrast from an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll conducted in August 2018, which found that a majority of Americans — 54 percent — found it inappropriate for athletes to kneel during the national anthem in protest, the Post noted.
The poll's release comes as the NFL is set to open its season on Thursday night and following a summer in which athletes have been outspoken on matters relating to police violence.
The Milwaukee Bucks last month refused to play a playoff game following the police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wis., prompting professional leagues throughout the U.S. to cancel games in solidarity.
Kaepernick became an intensely polarizing figure in 2016 after kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. Hundreds of players have reenacted the demonstration in the ensuing years, but Kaepernick has not made a NFL roster since the 2016 season.
Following the police killing of George Floyd in May, a group of the NFL's most prominent Black players produced a video demanding more support from the league office for player protests. The demands were followed by a response from NFL Commissioner in which he admitted the league was "wrong" in how it first reacted to player protests.
“We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” Goodell said. “We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter."
He said in August that he wished he listened to Kaepernick earlier about what he was "kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to."
President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE has repeatedly denounced players who kneel during the anthem and has suggested that players be fired over the actions. He voiced support for moving forward with the NFL season last month, but said "if they don’t stand for the national anthem, I hope they don’t open."
Trump has also taken aim at player protests in the NBA, claiming it is "horrible for basketball.”
The Washington Post poll was conducted Sept. 1-6 among a population of 1,001 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.