Where there once was a small trickle, now there is a deluge of LGBT celebrities announcing their sexuality. In the entertainment world especially, it seems more acceptable than ever for well-known figures to be completely open about their relationships. But what about in sports? For some reason (presumably because of perceived biases in their sport), athletes have been more reluctant than other celebrities to come out. A new survey from JWT and Out Professionals in Advertising and Media reveals that they don’t need to be so shy; the vast majority of Americans don’t care about their sexual preferences.
The survey, which polled 800 Americans over age 18, found that over three quarters of respondents don’t care about an athlete’s sexuality at all. They’re just concerned with performance in the game. In spite of this, just over half of respondents said that they know of some openly gay and lesbian athletes. Some 23% of respondents couldn’t name a single one. Here are the most widely recognized gay and lesbian athletes:
As you can see, athletes involved in tennis, football, basketball, and ice skating have the highest name recognition. It’s probably not a coincidence that ice skating and gymnastics are at the top of the list. Americans apparently believe that coming out is more acceptable in individual sports than team sports, largely because they think that teams won’t be accepting of an openly gay teammate. And good luck being a gay wrestler.
There is, of course, a contingent of respondents who don’t think the LGBT community should be involved in sports at all. They’re mostly conservative and religious, but overall they make up only a quarter of the total.
Most respondents say they respect brands who use gay athletes as spokespeople (though I’d be hard-pressed to think of a gay sports player/spokesperson). Still, 33% of respondents say they’d wonder about the value of a brand or product that has an openly gay spokesperson, and 30% think it’s not appropriate for openly gay athletes to be spokespeople. Still, with such a large percentage of the population open to LGBT athletes, it’s not exactly a wildly risky move for brands to hire gay athletes as spokespeople. In fact, it might just breed further acceptance.