A new study from the Barna Group revealed that two-thirds of Americans believe pro sports figures influence society more than faith leaders. Eight percent of Americans believe their influence is equal, and ten percent are not sure.
Most adults (61 percent) also say they are OK with sports figures displaying public expressions of their faith or talking about their faith in interviews. A quarter of Americans are undecided on this, and 12 percent oppose it. Even 34 percent of atheists and agnostics say athletes should be allowed to speak of their faith in public events. Among those who favor public expressions of faith, 40 percent say they do so because they believe athletes should have freedom of speech. Among those who oppose it, 45 percent say a person’s faith is personal and they shouldn’t force their beliefs on others.
About a third of adults say when an athlete speaks of or displays their faith, it makes the viewers more spiritually minded. Eleven percent said people should talk about their faith, and 10 percent said talking about faith can have a positive effect on listeners.
Players that are most recognized for their faith include pro football players Tim Tebow, Kurt Warner, and Robert Griffin III; pro baseball players Albert Pujols and Clayton Kershaw; pro basketball player Jeremy Lin; and professional golfer Bubba Watson.
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, concluded that “most Americans are comfortable with a mash-up of their faith and their sports. That there’s such a strong and positive awareness of Tim Tebow and his faith reveals Americans — and particularly Christians — desire for an authentic role model who is willing to so publicly connect his faith and life.”
“American’s are keenly aware of and concerned about maintaining religious liberty,” Kinnaman also mentioned. “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.”