NFL Draft: Fans Oppose Prospects With History of Violence, Not As Harsh On Substance Use

The 2017 NFL Draft kicked off on Thursday, April 27 and a recent HBO Real Sports/Marist Poll conducted in conjunction with the Marist College Center for Sports Communication determined that NFL fans have strong opinions related to the prospects their favorite teams select, especially when it relates to an athlete’s background.

When it comes to the draft, fans are not impressed when their team ignores a top college player, but if a team overlooks questionable behavior it often sparks a controversy. Pittsburgh Steelers fans are no different, claiming the honor of being one of the largest, most vocal bases in the league. Of interest was where fans drew the line in regards to a history of violence versus abuse of substances banned by the NFL.

After results of the HBO Real Sports/Marist Poll were released, I conducted an unscientific polling of 300 Steelers fans and the following are the outcomes of both investigations:

The HBO/Marist Poll Findings

Not surprisingly, most NFL fans oppose the drafting of a player to their favorite team that has a history of violence – specifically physical violence – against women. Three in four fans were also against drafting a prospect who had used performance-enhancing drugs or substances. That number varied greatly when it came to players with a history of marijuana use.

Varying somewhat from a Marist Poll conducted in 2014 after a rash of players who were in trouble with the league – Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson to name two – that discovered that 53 percent of Americans disapproved of how the NFL handled domestic violence accusations against some of its players, the 2017 poll showed that awareness of the problem has moved fans to take a more unified stand. Nearly nine in ten fans, 87 percent, said they oppose the drafting of a top college prospect with a history of violence against women versus three percent who favored recruiting such a player. Just nine percent said that the player’s history made no difference to them.

Director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication, Keith Strudler said,

Football fans are clear on their view of NFL athletes and domestic violence.  Physical violence against women is unacceptable, defying the myth that fans will excuse transgressions that don’t impact athletic performance. Conversely, marijuana is hardly a concern among fans, something the league should consider in their own codes of conduct.

Nationally, 75 percent of football fans were wary of drafting a player known to use performance-enhancing drugs and the age of the fan came into play. The majority of fans opposed to players with a history of steroid use (83 percent) were 60 years of age or older. Only 68 percent of fans under the age of 30 shared that view. Women were more likely than men to be opposed.

As legalization of marijuana has become more popular, the trend of fan attitudes towards college prospects who’ve had a history of its use has changed. Nearly six in ten, 59 percent, responded to the Marist Poll saying that it “makes no difference” if their NFL team were to draft a player with such a history. Only 28 percent opposed with 14 outright favoring such a selection. Opinions differed based on age, with younger fans (under 30) the least likely to oppose a player with a marijuana history joining their favorite team (16 percent) and fans 60 years of age and older (43 percent) most likely to be against such a draft pick. Interestingly, that left 45 percent of the nation’s oldest football fans saying they do not care if a player has used marijuana.

How Steelers Fans Responded

Steelers fans did not quite trend the same as fans who participated in the Marist Poll when it came to answering the following questions:

  • Would you favor or oppose the Steelers drafting a top college prospect even if he has a known history of physical violence against women? Please indicate if it makes no difference to you.
  • Would you favor or oppose the Steelers drafting a college prospect even if he has a known history of use of banned substances, such as steroids or PEDs? Please indicate if it makes no difference to you.
  • Considering recent Steelers players who’ve been disciplined for marijuana use or offenses related to marijuana use (including missed drug tests), would you favor or oppose the Steelers drafting a college prospect if he has a known history of marijuana use or legal drug offenses as a result of marijuana? Please indicate if it makes no difference to you.

150 male and 150 female Steelers fans between 18 and 99 years of age took part in the poll for Steel City Underground. Their location within the United States was random between four regions: East, Midwest, South and West. Steelers fans in the south region, with women and men voters added, represented the most opposition to the team drafting a player with a history of violence against women. The same region who responded to the Marist Poll opposed such a move by 85 percent.

The sample results, when broken down by age and gender of respondents, were as follows on the same topic:

Similar to the Marist Poll, female fans were the most reluctant to give their team a pass when it came to overlooking a prospect’s history when it came to how he treated women. While that may seem an obvious outcome, it was interesting to note that younger women were more open percentage wise to the idea than older women.

When it came to Steelers fans in those age groups who responded to questions about a player’s past history of drug use, including marijuana, the results were very similar to the Marist Poll but a bit more conservative. Males under the age of 30 in both cases saw marijuana use as less of an issue.

When it came to performance-enhancing drug use, Steelers fans were strongly opposed across the board with men aged 36 and above the least opposed.

Martavis Bryant

It took forever for Martavis Bryant to be reinstated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell leading to questions, as he is “conditionally” welcomed back by the league. Fans on social media threads went so far as to encourage a hashtag campaign to #FreeMartavis and it has become a distraction from the lack of play on a football field. Play will begin before long, however, leaving it wide open as to whether Bryant will become a distraction to the Steelers heading into spring ball or if they select a wide receiver in the upcoming draft.

If the Steelers do select a receiver, will fans be concerned about that prospects past in regards to marijuana use as a result of Bryant’s situation and other high profile players on Pittsburgh’s roster? The results of the poll seem to indicate that they may give that draft choice a pass, even if it is a slim one. They are likely to raise a ruckus, however, if general manager Kevin Colbert, head coach Mike Tomlin or the Steelers’ draft team choose a player who has not been a complete gentleman towards women in his past.

What do you think?

We’d like to hear your thoughts about the same poll questions above. If you have a quick minute, please fill out the form below. We will publish the results in a future article.

Draft Poll

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