Masculine honor beliefs linked to disapproval of National Anthem protests, study finds

Beliefs about masculine honor and the propensity to make attributions of prejudice are both related to how people judge anti-racism protests during the National Anthem, according to new research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

“As social psychologists, we are interested in understanding the various factors that influence people’s perceptions of social minority groups, and how this may lead to people expressing prejudice towards members of these groups,” said Evelyn Stratmoen of Kansas State University, the corresponding author of the study.

“The NFL players’ protests of the National Anthem we found particularly interesting, due to the extremely polarized viewpoints surrounding the protests and what it represents. On one hand, there are those who support the players protesting and the underlying reason for the protests — that police violence against racial minorities is a social issue that must be addressed. And on the other hand, there are those who believe that protesting during the National Anthem is an act of disrespect toward the United States and toward our veterans.”

“As such, we wanted to examine how masculine honor ideology – a set of norms where men are expected to use aggression to protect their reputation, family, and community that are associated with defending against threats to one’s country – as well as sensitivity to racial prejudice influenced people’s perceptions of the protests and of the players,” Stratmoen explained.

Across two studies, which included 508 participants in total, the researchers found that masculine honor beliefs were associated with how people perceived NFL players’ protests during the National Anthem.

People who agreed with statements such as “It is important for a man to be able to take pain,” “A man should be embarrassed if someone calls him a wimp,” and “If your son got into a fight, you would be proud that he stood up for himself” were more likely to view protests during the National Anthem as inappropriate.

“People who strongly endorse masculine honor norms are more likely to perceive the NFL National Anthem protests as being inappropriate and disrespectful toward America and are less likely to perceive police violence against racial minorities as being a social issue. They are also more likely to perceive Black NFL players who knelt as ‘dishonorable’ and perceive White NFL players who stood as ‘honorable,'” Stratmoen told PsyPost.

The tendency to attribute causes of behavior to racism was also linked to perceptions of National Anthem protests. Participants who agreed with statements such as “Racist behavior is more widespread than people think it is” and “You’ll see lots of racism if you look for it” were more likely to view the protests as appropriate.

“However, people who are more sensitive to racial prejudice are more likely to perceive the protests as being appropriate and respectful as well as more likely to perceive police violence against racial minorities as an issue. They are also more likely perceive a White player who knelt as ‘honorable’ and a White player who stood as ‘dishonorable’. Therefore, masculine honor ideology and sensitivity to racial prejudice influence perceptions of the NFL players’ protests of/during the National Anthem,” Stratmoen said.

But the study — like all research — includes some caveats.

“We did not control for if participants were NFL football fans or had prior contact with the military or police. It may be possible that football fans or those with prior military/police contact could exhibit more(or less) lenient beliefs regarding the protests, regardless of honor ideology or sensitivity to racial prejudice,” Stratmoen said.

“We also did not include participants who did selected reasons for the NFL players protesting that were not discussed in the widespread media (i.e., President Trump’s immigration policies; Racial differences in salary pay within the NFL).

“Even though we were only interested in examining the perceptions of those who had reasonable prior knowledge of the protests, this does not mean that those who are not as well-informed would not have perceptions and opinions regarding the protests or the players who protest during the National Anthem.”

“We are currently investigating how adherence to masculine honor norms interacts with sensitivity to racial prejudice in perceptions of police violence toward racial minorities, and what other factors moderate these perceptions, including gender and race of the police officer,” Stratmoen added.

The study, “Taking a knee: Perceptions of NFL player protests during the National Anthem“, was authored by Evelyn Stratmoen⁎, Tiffany J. Lawless, and Donald A. Saucier.