January 27, 2015 at 10:32 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Poll finds support for gay athletes in pro sports
Michael Sam, football, Missouri, gay news, Washington Blade, gay and lesbian athletes

The recruitment of Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL, is viewed as ‘a watershed moment in professional sports.’ (Photo by Marcus Qwertyus; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

With an estimated 110 million sports fans expected to watch the Seattle Seahawks battle the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Sunday, a new poll has found that 73 percent of Americans say they would support a professional sports team signing a gay or lesbian athlete.

The poll, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, found that those who support allowing gay athletes to play in professional sports include 54 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 66 percent of minority Protestants, 77 percent of mainline white Protestants, 78 percent of Catholics and 84 percent of the religiously unaffiliated.

“The recruitment of Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted in the National Football League, was a watershed moment in professional sports,” said Daniel Cox, the Public Religion Research Institute’s research director.

“Today, nearly three-quarters of Americans support the signing of gay and lesbian professional athletes, but at the same time, most still believe gay and lesbian athletes face significant discrimination,” Cox said.

He was referring to another finding in the poll that 56 percent of Americans say gay and lesbian athletes face “a lot of discrimination” in professional sports. Thirty-two percent said gay or lesbian athletes in professional sports face a “little” discrimination and 9 percent said they do not face any discrimination, the poll found.

“There are no significant differences by race, gender, or region on this question,” a statement accompanying the poll findings says. “However, less than half [45 percent] of seniors [age 65 and older] say gay and lesbian athletes face a lot of discrimination in professional sports, compared to majorities of all other age groups,” the statement says.

“Republicans (43 percent) are also less likely than independents (60 percent) and Democrats (65 percent) to say that professional gay and lesbian athletes face a lot of discrimination.”

The statement says the poll was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. It says the results were based on bilingual telephone interviews in English or Spanish conducted between Jan. 14-18, 2015, by professional interviewers of a random sample of 1,012 adults ages 18 or older living in the U.S. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percent and has a statistical confidence level of 95 percent, the statement says.

The polling organization describes itself on its website as a “non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.”

In questions addressing other sports-related issues, the poll found that 29 percent of Americans say a football player found guilty of committing domestic violence should be permanently banned from the NFL.

Fifty-nine percent said a player convicted of domestic violence should be allowed to return after a “temporary suspension,” and 8 percent said no formal action should be taken against such a player. Four percent said they had no opinion or didn’t know how to respond to the question.

The poll found a difference between male and female sports fans on the question of whether a player convicted of domestic violence should be permanently banned from the NFL. Thirty-six percent of female sports fans support a permanent ban compared to 21 percent of male sports fans who support such a ban.

However, in response to a separate question, 64 percent of the respondents taking the poll said they would oppose a professional sports team “signing a player who was convicted of domestic violence but not facing any current legal trouble.” Thirty percent said they support a team signing such a player.

Some of the other findings of the poll include:

• Twenty-six percent of Americans and 27 percent of self-described sports fans say God plays a role in which team wins a sporting event, while 71 percent of Americans and 69 percent of sports fans disagree with that belief.

• Fifty-three percent of Americans and 56 percent of sports fans say God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success, while 45 percent of Americans and 42 percent of sports fans disagree with that assertion.

• Forty percent of Americans say football is their favorite sport to watch, followed by basketball (12 percent), baseball (11 percent), and soccer (8 percent).

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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