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America Is Ready For Openly Gay Athletes, Poll Shows

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A majority of Americans -- including the vast majority of football fans -- say they would approve of their favorite sports team signing an openly gay player, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds.

According to the poll, 65 percent of Americans say they would approve of their team signing an openly gay player, including 46 percent who said they would strongly approve of such a move. Only 18 percent said that they would disapprove, and another 18 percent said they weren't sure.

And the new poll -- conducted after NFL draft prospect Michael Sam announced publicly that he is gay -- also found that 68 percent of NFL fans say they would approve of their team signing an openly gay player. More than two-thirds of fans of all the major American sports leagues agreed.

Fans tended to believe that, if their team did sign a gay player, that player would be accepted by his or her teammates, although many also said they didn't know for sure. Forty-five percent of football fans said that they believed a gay player would be accepted by teammates on their favorite team, while only 14 percent believed a gay player would not be accepted (41 percent said they weren't sure). Fans of other major sports leagues, including Major League Baseball, the NHL and the NBA, were similarly likely to guess that a gay player would find acceptance on their favorite team.

Americans as a whole, and fans of each of the major sports, said by an overwhelming margin that an athlete's sexuality is none of his or her potential team's business, especially if he or she is not out publicly.

Sixty-eight percent of Americans said it's unacceptable for a team to interview current friends and teammates of a player the team is thinking about signing to find out if he or she might be gay. More than two-thirds of fans of every major American sport, and a majority of Americans across the political spectrum, agreed that it's unacceptable for a team to conduct such an investigation.

But many NFL teams appear to have done just that before Sam announced on Sunday that he is gay.

In an interview with OutSports, Sam's agent Joe Barkett said that he was frequently asked by scouts about Sam's sexual orientation. "They would ask about spending time with him, were there girls around?" Barkett said. "Who is his girlfriend?"

Sports Illustrated quoted an anonymous "assistant personnel man" who said that "90 percent of teams" had already found out Sam was gay before he announced it publicly, and claimed that most had dropped him lower on their draft lists as a result.

If Americans frown upon teams digging into the personal lives of players to try to find out about their sexual orientation, even more (74 percent) think it's unacceptable for a reporter who knows a public figure is gay to report it if that person hasn't said so publicly.

In Sam's case, reporters who found out about his sexual orientation seem to have kept it a secret. OutSports described Sam's sexuality as "the worst-kept secret in the sports media," and said that many in the local media knew that he was gay -- but none of them reported it before ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports officially reported Sam's announcement.

Reporters and news organizations aren't always so careful about keeping private information about sexual orientation or gender identity out of their reporting. ESPN's Grantland recently outed golf club inventor Essay Anne Vanderbilt as transgender, against her express wishes. Vanderbilt committed suicide in October, before the story's publication.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Feb. 10-11 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling.

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