Why you should care
Because it’s a major cultural shift happening in front of our eyes.
Cris Alford was never much of a football fan. And, although the 26-year-old is Christian, her church attendance has waned, in part because of her concerns about religious stances on LGBT issues. Instead, when Sunday rolls around, the camera technician from Smyrna, Georgia, takes the biblical day of rest literally — using her Sundays to sleep in, enjoy a peaceful morning to herself and get chores done around the house. She is far from alone among her peers.
Only about a third of Americans under 30 say they’re in church on Sundays, and only a fifth say they’re watching football.
The number of people who say they aren’t hitting the pews or the pigskin has jumped from 38 to 58 percent in the past five years, according to an annual study by the Public Religion Research Institute, which was released in January. “The largest difference is generational. Young people are more likely to abstain on both,” says PRRI research director Dan Cox. For decades, church attendance has been slipping in most congregations. And there is an increase in people raised outside religion, who never experienced it growing up. “It’s not a group we talk about often — we talk a lot about the people who have left religion, not the nones,” says Cox. “If you were raised outside of religion, you don’t have any of that grounding. It’s a much higher bar to get them in the door.”
What the hell are 20-somethings doing with their Sundays?
But the slip in pro football viewership has been more precipitous, amid complaints that the game has become more dangerous, boring and political. In an OZY poll, conducted in December, a third of respondents said they purposely stopped watching or attending NFL games last season. The most common reasons for turning their backs? To support Colin Kaepernick and other players kneeling or to support Donald Trump. Cox notes that in the same PRRI poll, however, the younger age group was less likely to turn the channel based on protests. “It’s not the politics surrounding the football; it’s just a decline in interest,” Cox says.
It’s also worth noting that college football (played mostly on Saturdays) remains immensely popular, especially in the South. Still, when it comes to Sunday football, some fans say they have no interest anymore in the teams playing. After moving to Knoxville, Tennessee, Gabe Rutan-Ram says he started watching less because he no longer lives in his hometown TV market, so he couldn’t watch his favorite team play “without a hefty subscription or VPN.”
That all raises the question: What the hell are 20-somethings doing with their Sundays? The answer isn’t so straightforward, simply because there are so many culprits. In the past two decades, entertainment options have multiplied “innumerable times,” Cox says. The growth of soccer and, to a lesser extent, lacrosse on the youth level has diminished football’s playground advantage, especially as long-term health risks have made parents more reticent to let their kids strap on pads.
Rutan-Ram mentions that he plays video games on Sundays, and it’s true that consoles are becoming one-stop entertainment shops, particularly with their inclusion of home controls and video streaming sites like Netflix. In general, the abundance of local Meetup groups and online networking apps make it easier to connect with other people in cities. As Cox puts it: “You can self-select what you’re most interested in, rather than just thinking, ‘My buddy is watching the game, so I’ll go watch with him.’”