By Stephanie Smith
(CNN) — Football fans appear to have a love-hate relationship with the NFL, according to a new CNN/ORC poll.
On one hand, most appear unmoved in their views of the National Football League after controversies like alleged bullying between Miami Dolphins players and the murder case involving former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Some 75% percent of respondents said claims of racist and violent communications between suspended Dolphins guard Richie Incognito and teammate Jonathan Martin had no effect on their view of the NFL overall. About the same number — 78% — said Hernandez’s murder case did not shake their views of the league.
But about three out of four respondents said that overarching issues of violent behavior and bullying among players are serious enough that something should be done about them.
The poll results underscore the complicated way fans may try to reconcile the entertainment value of the NFL with violence in professional football.
No issue captures that dichotomy more than concussions.
Issues surrounding brain damage, and other potential long-term cognitive and emotional consequences of repetitive brain trauma, are now practically synonymous with the NFL.
In August, thousands of former football players and their families reached a settlement with the league in a lawsuit that put the issue under the microscope.
The deal calls for the NFL to pay $765 million to fund medical exams, concussion-related compensation, medical research for retired NFL players and their families, and litigation expenses, according to court documents.
At the heart of the lawsuit was plaintiffs’ allegations that the NFL led a deliberate misinformation campaign — primarily through its Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee — to deny scientific data being presented in the medical community about concussion risks.
More recently, former player Tony Dorsett said he struggles with memory loss and personality changes and was told he shows signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The progressive degenerative brain disease has been found in some athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma.
And former player Brett Favre told a radio talk show that he has had memory lapses.
Perhaps because of that attention, 36% of poll respondents said they view the NFL less favorably based on its handling of the concussion controversy.
Sixty percent say it has no effect on their views.
On the topic of NFL injuries overall: About half of the public believes that something should be done about them, while the other half views them as part of the game.
The same number say they view the NFL less favorably when players inflict intentional injuries on opposing players; 50% view that style of play as part of the game.
The scales tipped dramatically for respondents when it came to youth football players and concussion; 80% of the public considers concussions sustained by middle school and high school players to be a serious problem.
And when asked to weigh two scenarios — the possibility of having to pay fees for their child to play football, or concussions they could sustain while playing — 64% said concussions mattered more to them, while only 25% said paying to play was more important.
A poll released last month by HBO Real Sports and the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion showed that one in three Americans said that knowing about the damage concussions can cause would make them less likely to allow their sons to play football.
“Historically, youth football has fueled the NFL,” said Keith Strudler, director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication. “Parents’ concern about the safety of the game could jeopardize the future of the sport.”
A report from the National Academy of Sciences, also released last month, found that high school athletes who play football, lacrosse, soccer and baseball were more likely to experience concussions than college-age players.
Respondents in the CNN/ORC poll included 843 people interviewed by telephone November 18-20. Of those, 51% identified as football fans, and 8% said they were “somewhat fans.” Forty-one percent of people polled were not football fans.
The sampling error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
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