Following the brunt of the COVID pandemic, many of us were hungry for doing normal things. After being delayed because of COVID, the Olympics seemed like such an event to unite the country. Who doesn’t fondly remember watching the Olympics, right? Just having the Olympics on seems like progress.
But Americans lost interest in the Olympics in 2021, and ratings have plummeted this year, declining 49 percent compared to the 2016 Games and 53 percent compared to the 2012 Games. The opening ceremony had the lowest viewership since 1988.
While some blame COVID for the lack of interest, according to Patrick Murray, the director of Monmouth University Polling Institute, there’s more to it than that.
“The delay from last year and lack of spectators have taken the edge off the typical anticipation and excitement for this event,” Murray said. “But the emergence of Black Lives Matter in the sports world has also led to a backlash among some Americans.”
Polls have shown that athlete protests have alienated Republican and independent voters. Of those who said they had less interest in the Olympics compared to previous Games, 30 percent cited the pandemic and 34 percent said politics. “Not surprisingly, among those less interested in the Olympics this year, just over half of Democrats [51%] point to Covid as the reason for their lack of interest while just over half of Republicans [51%] cite politics.”
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The effects of athlete political activism go beyond the Olympics. Subway franchisees want the company to ditch Megan Rapinoe from their advertising because of boycott threats. Various sports leagues, including the NBA and MLB, have suffered declines in ratings due to athlete protests. Surprisingly, many fans simply don’t want to be lectured to by athletes. I’m sure most people who watch sports enjoy the escape from politics–or used to, before professional sports and politics became synonymous.
While no one questions the right of athletes to have opinions and express them, there’s a time and a place for everything. On the field or court during the event is simply not one of them, and if they don’t start to clamp down on it, they’ll lose even more viewers.