Survey Explores Pro Athletes Speaking Their Minds on Politics,  Skipping White House Visits

ST. LEO, FL – College athletes should be able to profit from the use of their name and photos in advertising, and Americans think professional athletes should speak their minds, even on political matters, according to a new survey released by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute.

The most recent Saint Leo poll ( was conducted from November 13 through November 18, among 1,000 total respondents nationally.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) recently voted to explore the possibility of college student-athletes being compensated for use of their names and images in endorsements, commercials, and advertising.

Under one-half of all poll respondents, 45.5 percent, say they support college athletes having the ability to profit from their name, image, and likeness, while 32.1 percent disagreed, and say the current system of awarding scholarships, but restricting endorsements, is fair. Another 22.4 percent report they do not know or are unsure about the issue.

The NCAA vote came after California passed a Fair Pay to Play Act, which would allow student-athletes to sign endorsement deals and licensing contracts.

Poll respondents were asked if they believe college athletes should be compensated directly by their institutions beyond their current scholarship and benefits received from those institutions. Among those polled, 36.9 percent say athletes should be paid while 45.2 percent say no, the current compensation athletes receive (scholarships and room and board) is enough, and 17.9 percent say they are unsure.

“It seems like there is more support for athletes getting NLI (name, likeness, image) than getting paid by the institution,” said Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute.

Looking at the breakdown of the poll respondents by demographics, Orlando noted that poll respondents who say they are Democrats say they are more likely to support student-athletes being paid for the use of their name and image, “as well as younger, and more minority groups, the groups more likely to benefit from NLI,” he said. “Whereas those who consume college sports [older/whiter] are less likely to support this.”

What such change could mean concerns Philip Hatlem, sport business instructor at Saint Leo University. “People that want change, such as paying college athletes, usually figure that all the good aspects of what they want to change will remain good,” Hatlem said. “Do we know this about college athletics? Will paying or allowing earning by college athletes change the landscape so much that college athletics as we know it may not exist 10 years from now? Paying athletes cannot be viewed in a vacuum.”

Democrats who say they support college athletes profiting from NLI number 54.6 percent while 41.1 percent of poll respondents who are Republican offer support. In the youngest group (ages 18-35), 54.6 percent say they support student-athletes being paid for images, while 38.4 of those ages 36-55 offer support, and 41.5 percent of the 56 and older group say college athletes should receive payment for use of their name and likeness. Among Hispanics, 56.4 percent support payment while 40.2 percent of whites and 61.9 percent of African-Americans agree that student-athletes should be compensated for the use of their images in advertising and endorsements.

Pro Sports and Politics

Poll respondents were asked if professional athletes should speak their minds on social and political issues. Just more than one-half, 51.9 percent, suggest that professional athletes should discuss their beliefs. “Focus on your sport,” was the message from 34.6 percent of those polled as they say athletes should not discuss the issues of the day, while 13.5 percent say they are unsure.

When politics is injected into sports, 40.9 percent suggest they lose at least some interest in following their respective sports while 39.9 percent say it does not affect their sports interest level. Politics make sports more interesting for 12.4 percent.

Athletes have visited the White House for many years, but recent snubs of invitations from President Donald Trump have been in the news. According to ESPN, President Andrew Johnson welcomed the Brooklyn Atlantics and Washington Nationals amateur baseball clubs in 1865. The first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was hosted in 1869 by President Ulysses S. Grant, and the first World Series championship team to visit the White House is believed to have been the 1924 Washington Senators, who were invited by President Calvin Coolidge.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute asked the following: “White House visits by season-winning sport teams has been a tradition over the years. More recently, some players opt out of their respective team visits in protest over personal political differences with the president or current administration. In your view, how should players act when afforded a White House team-visit opportunity?”

Saying “all team members should put aside politics and visit the White House” were 38.6 percent while 48.8 percent say all team members should express their views as they wish, and 12.6 percent say they are unsure.

“I’m kind of surprised at how fine the public is with athletes being political,” said Orlando, the polling institute director. “Over half say they can be political, and almost half are OK with boycotting the [White House] visit. I’m also surprised that only 40 percent say politics lessens their interest, given how much ESPN has dealt with this over the past few years. You wonder if perhaps these controversies are bigger on social media than they are for the majority of respondents.”

Regarding White House visits by winning sports teams, among those who say they are Republicans, 68 percent say athletes should put politics aside and go to the White House, while 67.3 percent of Democrats say athletes should decline the invitation if they are so inclined.

“The Democratic and Republican breakdowns are interesting, with Dems agreeing with not visiting, and overwhelming Reps indicating teams should visit,” Saint Leo’s Hatlem said. “Would this be different with a Democratic President? Would the results be flipped?”

Saint Leo’s poll also looked at the recent controversy of the NBA’s Houston Rockets general manager supporting Hong Kong demonstrations and then retracting that support, with 33.5 percent of respondents noting the NBA should be vocal in support of the demonstrators who opposed a new extradition to China rule. Others, 43 percent, say the NBA should avoid international politics altogether, and 23.5 say they are unsure.

Participation by Transgender Athletes

The recent successes achieved by transgender athletes have gained news headlines and sparked controversy as to whether transgender athletes should be allowed to compete. The Saint Leo poll asked if transgender athletes should be allowed to compete against the gender they identify with and one-third, 35.7 percent, disagree, suggesting this should never be allowed.

One-fifth of all respondents, 19.9 percent, say that transgender athletes should be allowed to compete without condition against the gender with which they identify. Another 20.9 percent agree they may compete, but should meet specific criteria based on time lapsed since transitioning and hormone levels.

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from November 13 through November 18, 2019, among a base of 1,000 respondents nationally, using an online instrument. The national sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 3.0 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 1,000 respondents.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

Media contacts:

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Writer & Media Relations,, (352) 588-7118 or cell (813) 610-8416

Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text) or desk (352) 588-8237.     

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation, offering nearly 60 undergraduate and graduate-level degree programs to more than 19,500 students each year. Founded in 1889 by Benedictine monks, the private, nonprofit university is known for providing a values-based education to learners of all backgrounds and ages in the liberal arts tradition. Saint Leo is regionally accredited and offers a residential campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, 32 education centers in seven states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 95,000 alumni. Learn more at