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LGBT in the Sports World: NFL Seen as Toughest Sport to "Come Out" in

Despite widespread opposition to Russia's "Gay Propaganda" law, majority of Americans feel U.S. should participate in Sochi Olympics

NEW YORK, Dec. 4, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The NFL has had more than its share of negative press this season. The league has been under fire for allegations of downplaying brain injury dangers for its players, and more recently has come under fire for at least one team allegedly tolerating bullying among its players. In addition to all this, a recent Harris Poll finds that Americans are most likely to identify the NFL (31%) as among the sports, leagues or organizations in which it would be hardest for a current athlete to "come out" as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).


These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,577 adults surveyed online between September 18 and 24, 2013 by Harris Interactive. (Full results, including data tables and full list of sports tested, available here)

The play-by-play: sports environments seen as toughest and easiest to come out in 
Eight in ten Americans (81%) agree that some sports would be more difficult to come out in than others. Looking at specific sports "ecosystems" perceived as being among the most difficult to come out in, NFL is followed by professional boxing (22%), WWE/professional wrestling (20%), mixed martial arts/UFC (18%) and NASCAR (15%).

  • Among Matures (those ages 68 and older), pro boxing narrowly edges out NFL (25% and 23%, respectively) as the toughest sports environment to come out in.
  • NASCAR rises to second among LGBT Americans, with this group nearly twice as likely select it as those not LGBT (26% and 15%, respectively).
  • Echo Boomers (ages 18-36) are considerably more likely to have a formed opinion on the subject, with all other generations roughly twice as likely to indicate being unsure (17% Echo Boomers, 31% Gen Xers, 33% Baby Boomers, 38% Matures).

On the other hand, PGA/LPGA (pro golf) and ATP/WTA (pro tennis) are most often identified as being among the easiest to come out in (with 34% of Americans selecting each), followed by WNBA (24%).

Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) feel that it's more difficult to come out as LGBT for pro athletes in team sports than for those in individual or partnered sports, while six in ten (60%) believe that for athletes playing for a team with a "home town," how hard it would be to come out would have more to do with that home town than the sport they play.

Additionally, seven in ten Americans (70%) believe it's easier for female pro athletes to come out than their male counterparts.

On Russian "Gay Propaganda" law: it's a mistake – but it's their mistake to make  
At the time of the survey, over six in ten Americans (63%) had at least heard about the Russian "gay propaganda" law, which criminalizes demonstrations in favor of, speaking in defense of, or distributing materials related to gay rights, in some cases even prohibiting public displays of affection between two people of the same gender. Nearly four in ten Americans (38%) say they knew at least some details about the law prior to the survey, with Echo Boomers (44%) more likely than any other generation to know at least some details about the law (36% Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, 35% Matures).

Three-fourths of Americans (74%) oppose the law, with nearly half of Americans (46%) voicing strong opposition to it; those with a pre-existing knowledge of the law are considerably more likely to strongly oppose the law (54%, vs. 34% among those without prior knowledge). However, while most U.S. adults stand in opposition to the law, nearly eight in ten Americans (78%) – including six in ten LGBT Americans (60%) – say that it doesn't matter if an American agrees or disagrees with it, as the Russian government has the right to do what they wish with their own country.

Despite strong opposition to the law, and in spite of indications that Olympians competing in Russia next February will be subject to the full weight of its regulations, six in ten Americans (59%) agree that the United States should send a team to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Two in ten each disagree that the U.S. should send a team (20%) and are not at all sure (21%).

  • This is even true when looking only at those Americans openly opposed to the law, with 55% agreeing that the U.S. should send a team and 24% disagreeing.
  • Opinions are more divided among LGBT Americans, with 42% agreeing that the U.S. should send a team and 40% disagreeing.

Names in the news 
Nearly half of Americans (48%) indicate having heard about NBA player Jason Collins coming out in April, while two in ten (20%) recall hearing about WWE wrestler Darren Young coming out in August. But perhaps the bigger news is the combined indifference with which these revelations have been met, as roughly two-thirds of those aware of each athlete coming out indicate that it "makes no difference in how I seem him" (67% Jason Collins, 64% Darren Young).

Over four in ten (44%) of those Americans aware of Jason Collins coming out feel he is brave, while half (50%) of those aware of Darren Young's admission say the same. What's more, over four in ten of those aware of each athlete coming out indicate respecting the manner in which they chose to do so – this despite very different manners employed by the two men, one carefully planned and the other seemingly off the cuff.

Few believe coming out will be either bad (12% Collins, 14% Young) or good (11% Collins, 14% Young) for either's career.

To see other recent Harris Polls, please visit the Harris Poll News Room.

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This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between September 18 and 24, 2013 among 2,577 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #92, December 4, 2013 
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Harris Interactive  
Harris Interactive is one of the world's leading market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for The Harris Poll®, Harris offers proprietary solutions in the areas of market and customer insight, corporate brand and reputation strategy, and marketing, advertising, public relations and communications research across a wide range of industries. Additionally, Harris has a portfolio of multi-client offerings that complement our custom solutions while maximizing a client's research investment. Serving clients worldwide through our North American and European offices, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help our clients stay ahead of what's next. For more information, please visit

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SOURCE Harris Interactive

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