|Two-Thirds of Americans Say Pro Athletes Have More Influence on Society than Faith Leaders|
February 1, 2013 – With perhaps the biggest sporting event of the year coming up this weekend, Barna Group looks at the influence of athletes and the role faith plays in American sports. A new study from Barna shows most Americans believe sports figures have a greater influence than do professional clergy or other faith leaders.
Athletes Top Pastors
Sports figures are deemed most influential by those making $60,000-plus, college graduates, whites and parents. Those most likely to select faith leaders were weekly church attenders and those with incomes under $40,000.
Americans Like Sports + Faith
Those most favorable toward public expressions of faith are Boomers (66%), parents of children under the age of 18 (66%), evangelicals (88%), and blacks (79%). Women are also more supportive than were men (65% versus 56%). The only group that was split on the issue is those who are atheists and agnostics, although 34% of this group still favors athletes being able to talk about their faith in media or public events.
Does Anyone Care to Listen?
Why Sports and Faith Do—and Don’t—Go Together
Among those who oppose sports figures talking about their faith publicly, the most frequently mentioned reason for resisting this behavior is feeling that faith should be kept personal and that it’s not appropriate to force one’s beliefs on others (45%). Other common reasons include the perception that athletes should “just play the game” (21%), that the viewers are not interested in hearing about their faith (10%), and that they shouldn’t use their fame to push their agenda (8%). Less prominent reasons for opposing the mixing of faith and sports includes not believing in religion (4%) and feeling these episodes are just an act (4%).
What Players are Recognized for Their Faith?
The research also explored awareness of seven prominent athletes by asking adults if they are aware of these athletic performers and whether they are aware of the athlete’s public discussion of faith. Again, Tebow emerges at the top of the pile:
* Tim Tebow, pro football player
* Kurt Warner, retired pro football player
* Jeremy Lin, pro basketball player
* Bubba Watson, professional golfer
* Albert Pujols, professional baseball player
* Robert Griffin III, professional football player
* Clayton Kershaw, professional baseball player
What the Research Suggests
Kinnaman also mentions the connection between public faith declarations and issues of religious liberty, “American’s are keenly aware of and concerned about maintaining religious liberty. Even if they didn’t agree with or particularly care for an athlete’s faith declarations, Americans would be hesitant to limit that person’s ability to speak up about their faith. The real question, though, would be whether or not Americans would embrace athletes publicly promoting a faith other Christianity. In fact, the only non-Christian athlete who shows up in the research is Muhammad Ali. However, his connection to the Muslim faith was only mentioned in a top-of-mind way by just 1% of adults. America is comprised of a majority of self-described Christians, so how much diversity of faith will they accept in their sports figures? In any case, the role of faith and sports should continue to be a point of interest among Americans for years to come.”
About the Research
Based upon U.S. Census data sources, regional and ethnic quotas were designed to ensure that the final group of adults interviewed reflected the distribution of adults nationwide and adequately represented the three primary ethnic groups within the U.S. (those groups which comprise at least 10% of the population: white, black, and Hispanic).
"Evangelicals" meet the born again criteria (described below) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as "evangelical."
"Non-evangelical born again Christians" are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. These adults are born again, but do not meet the additional evangelical criteria.
Generations: Mosaics / Millennials are a generation born between 1984 through 2002; Busters, born between 1965 and 1983; Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964; and Elders were born in 1945 or earlier.
About Barna Group
© Barna Group, 2013.
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