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Americans Believe Sports Teams Hide Reports of Abusive Player Behavior

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

PITTSBURGH, January 7, 2014 – According to results of a national poll by the Robert Morris University Polling Institute Powered by Trib Total Media, 82.4 percent of Americans believe that sports teams and owners hide reports of scandalous player behavior to protect the team brand and image. The poll measured opinions on behavior such as domestic and child abuse among professional sports figures.

More than 85 percent of respondents indicated that professional athletes have a responsibility to be good role models. However, about 76 percent believe that Americans tend to overlook ‘bad behavior’ among athletes because of their celebrity. The changing role and expansion of the media have made athletes a major news focus, especially if controversy or criminal behavior is involved.

“The coverage and commentary of ‘athletic celebrity’ can be quite extensive and longer in duration, thus creating a perception of a wide spread problem,” said David Synowka, head of the RMU Department of Sport Management. “In reality, most athletes are law abiding and involved in their communities as socially responsible adults. Similar criminal behaviors are engaged by other professionals in business, science and medicine on a daily basis and do not receive anywhere near the coverage or commentary.” 

The poll showed that 69.5 percent have been closely following the recent accusations of professional football players involved in serious off-field behavior including domestic violence and child abuse. Nearly three-fourths of respondents (74.3 percent) agreed that Americans are becoming less tolerant of criminal behavior by sports figures. That said, 62.4 percent reported having made no changes in following their favorite teams related to abuse charges.

Synowka notes some positive results of the recent controversies. “More extensive character and legal background checks, and instructional and mentoring programs are now part of the pre-draft process as athletes enter their professional careers. Also, the coverage of criminal behavior such as spousal or partner abuse have created a greater public awareness of a significant social problem, resulting in support and education programs for these victims.”

Recent polling by Robert Morris University also shows growing support for banning youth contact football owing to rising concerns over concussions. Nearly half of Americans (49.4 percent) support a ban on contact football for youth before high school, up from 40.5 percent in 2013. You can read more about those results here.

ABOUT THE POLL: The poll was conducted by the Robert Morris University Polling Institute Powered by Trib Total Media. Polling by the Institute is conducted on a regular basis and may also include spontaneous polling on occurring events. Go to for more information.

METHODOLOGY: The poll sampled opinions of 1004 approximately proportional to state population contribution nationwide. The survey was conducted Nov. 24 to Dec. 5, 2014. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The poll has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

ABOUT ROBERT MORRIS UNIVERSITY: Through 60 undergraduate and 20 graduate degree programs across five academic schools, Robert Morris University (RMU) in Pittsburgh, Pa., works to change its students' lives so that they can go out and change the lives of others for the better. More than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate, nontraditional and online students from 37 states and 37 nations are enrolled at RMU, which sits on 230 scenic acres just 20 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh. Emphasizing experiential learning, Robert Morris focuses on professional development, service learning, global awareness, undergraduate research, campus leadership, and cultural experiences, all of which are documented on our innovative Student Engagement Transcript. More than 100 clubs and organizations help students to develop leadership skills, network professionally, and meet friends. RMU also has 16 NCAA Division I athletic programs, including football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s ice hockey, and men's and women's lacrosse. Learn more at


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