As three of the major American men’s sports leagues continue to wait for their first openly gay player, a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service found that nearly three-quarters of Americans would support a pro sports team signing a gay or lesbian player.
The survey released last week found that 73 percent of Americans support teams signing gay or lesbian players, with a larger share strongly supportive (26 percent) than opposed at all (19 percent). Gay athletes received support from all political groups, with 66 percent of Republicans, 75 percent of independents, and 79 percent of Democrats supportive of teams signing gay players. Majority support exists across religious groups as well, according to PRRI’s survey:
A pre-World Cup poll of soccer fans worldwide found that majorities in Europe and North America would support openly gay players on their national teams, though the United States, at 52 percent, registered one of the smallest of the majorities. But polling data on the subject is uncommon — this is the first time PRRI has included the question in its sports survey — making it hard to tell if fan attitudes toward gay players have shifted in recent years, said Dan Cox, the research director at PRRI. But, he said, “the trend is moving everything in the same direction” when it comes to broader acceptance of LGBT people across racial, religious, and political lines, and sports seem to be following that. The data, Cox said, shows that “if you think gay people ought not be discriminated against, you’re going to support gay athletes being signed to teams.”
Researchers also wondered if Americans might support gay athletes generally but feel differently if it was their own favorite team signing one, but they “didn’t see any sign of that,” Cox said.
While support among fans is high, the presence of openly gay athletes remains small. Open athletes are more visible in major women’s sports, where they have been accepted longer and current soccer stars Megan Rapinoe and Abby Wambach and WNBA star Brittney Griner are just a few of the open athletes playing in top pro leagues. But in men’s sports, the retirement of Jason Collins, the NBA’s first openly gay player, and the inability of Michael Sam, the first openly gay player taken in the NFL Draft, to land an active roster spot, has left Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Robbie Rogers as the only open gay athlete in major American men’s professional team sports (though in University of Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon, there is also an openly gay player in major men’s college basketball).
There are still issues for the professional leagues to work out in order to welcome more openly gay players and fans among their ranks, and responses to the poll indicate that Americans are perhaps aware of that. Despite the large amount of public support most prominent gay athletes have often received from teammates and fans, the poll found that 56 percent of Americans believe that gay, lesbian, and bisexual players face significant discrimination in the sports world.