24% say gay athlete might hurt team

NEW YORK -- A majority of people believe there is nothing wrong with openly gay male athletes participating in sports, but nearly 24 percent think an openly gay athlete would hurt their team, according to an NBC/USA Network poll.

The mixed results of the survey on American attitudes toward gay athletes appear in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, which hits newsstands Wednesday. Of the 979 people interviewed, 86 percent agreed it is OK for openly gay men to play sports, but some seemed to back off when asked if that could hurt their team.

"It was like, I'm OK with this, but if you press me, I have some doubts," said Doug Schoen, whose firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, conducted the poll.

The views of athletes also seem to be mixed when they are asked about the issue. When Esera Tuaolo came out after his NFL playing career ended, Sterling Sharpe said his former teammate was smart to
hide his sexuality.

"Had he come out on a Monday, with Wednesday, Thursday and Friday practices, he'd have never gotten to the other team," Sharpe said.

But Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. said he wouldn't have a problem accepting a gay teammate.

"Wouldn't bother me at all. If you can play, you can play," he

In another mixed result from the poll, 79 percent of respondents agreed Americans are more accepting of gays in sports today than they were 20 years ago. But 62 percent agreed the reason there is so little coverage of gays in sports is that America is not ready to accept gay athletes.

Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates conducted interviews among the general population from March 18-21. The margin of error plus or minus 3.1 percent.