Fans Say Tua Tagovailoa’s Concussions Damaged the NFL More Than Damar Hamlin's Cardiac Arrest Did

About 3 in 5 NFL fans said football is “unsafe” after the Hamlin incident, per a new Morning Consult survey
January 23, 2023 at 5:00 am UTC

In late September, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa sustained head and neck injuries in a “Thursday Night Football” game against the Cincinnati Bengals, leading to concussion-like symptoms and season-long health questions. A few months later, on Jan. 2, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest during a “Monday Night Football” game against the Bengals, requiring CPR and defibrillation to restart his heart.

A new Morning Consult survey conducted after Hamlin’s incident found that U.S. adults and NFL fans’ perception that the league is safe has increased compared with an October survey conducted shortly after Tagovailoa was knocked out. The results illustrate that the news surrounding Tagovailoa’s series of head injuries likely harmed the NFL’s reputation more than did the near-fatal situation with Hamlin, who spent more than a week in separate hospitals and is now recovering.

3 in 5 NFL Fans Believe Football Is 'Unsafe'

Respondents were asked how safe or unsafe is football
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Surveys conducted Oct. 8-9, 2022, and Jan. 14-16, 2023, among a representative sample of approximately 2,200 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

Football is “unsafe,” per majority of NFL fans 

  • In the October survey, more than 3 in 5 self-identified NFL fans (63%) said the sport of football is “unsafe,” compared with 58% who said the same earlier this month in a separate survey conducted after Hamlin’s collapse. There was also a drop of 5 percentage points among U.S. adults, with 61% of those in the more recent survey saying football is unsafe, compared with 66% in October. 
  • About 2 in 5 NFL fans (39%) in this month’s survey said football is “safe,” compared with 34% of adults who said the same. 

Fans' View of NFL’s Priorities Improved Following Damar Hamlin Incident

Respondents were asked which of the following statements comes closest to their opinion:
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Surveys conducted Oct. 8-9, 2022, and Jan. 14-16, 2023, among a representative sample of approximately 2,200 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

NFL player safety isn’t prioritized, survey shows 

  • In October, about half of NFL fans (52%) and adults (50%) said the league prioritizes profit over safety, though both figures were slightly lower in the January survey. 
  • More than 3 in 5 NFL fans (64%) said they at least “somewhat approve” of the NFL’s decision to cancel the Bills-Bengals game after Hamlin’s injury. 
  • About 3 in 4 NFL fans (76%) said they either “strongly approve” or “somewhat approve” of how the NFL handled the Hamlin situation, despite media reports that the NFL initially wanted to resume the “Monday Night Football” game after the safety’s cardiac arrest before coaches and players from both teams overruled the league. The NFL denied those reports. 
  • A majority of both adults and NFL fans said the Hamlin incident had at least a “minor impact” on their interest in watching professional football.

NFL continues to dominate ratings amid scary injuries 

NFL fans believe the league prioritizes profit over safety, but that hasn’t yet impacted their devotion to the league, even as concerning injuries pile up. NFL games made up 82 of the top 100 most-watched U.S. TV broadcasts in 2022, while average per-game attendance increased 3.25% this season compared with 2021, according to Sports Business Journal. ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast during which Hamlin collapsed was the most-watched in the network’s history. 

The Jan. 14-16, 2023, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,201 U.S. adults, including 1,589 self-identified NFL fans, both with unweighted margins of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

A headshot photograph of Mark J. Burns
Mark J. Burns
Sports Analyst

Mark J. Burns is a sports analyst on the Industry Intelligence team, where he conducts research, authors analyst notes and advises leaders in the sports industry on how to apply insights to make better business decisions. Before joining Morning Consult, he served as a beat reporter at Sports Business Journal, covering the business of hockey and soccer. Mark graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in history and holds a Juris Doctor from Belmont University. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].

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