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Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

 

Over the last several years, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has chronicled a decline in the public's attitude about key institutions.

Fewer Americans have confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court, corporations, the federal government and the news media than they once had.  

But the most recent NBC/WSJ poll highlights another American institution that has lost its luster: the sports athlete.

According to the survey, only 42 percent of adults believe that athletes are good role models for children, versus 48 percent who disagree.

Why those numbers are so jaw-dropping: When another poll asked this exact same question in 1982, a whopping 75 percent of respondents said athletes are good role models, while just 19 percent said they weren't.

"That is a profound change over a generation," said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who co-conducts the NBC/WSJ poll.

Of course, it's not difficult to explain the change. Just think about all of the scandals over the last few years involving performance-enhancing drugs or sex. Lance Armstrong. Barry Bonds. Tiger Woods. The list goes on.

And so does the decline in another American institution.

The NBC/WSJ poll was taken Feb. 21-24 of 1,000 adults (including 300 cell phone-only respondents), and it has a margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.