Surprisingly, most straight sports fans don’t appear to care a great deal if a “favourite” male athlete came out as gay, according to a new US survey.

In the recent survey by Witeck-Combs Communications and Harris Interactive, nearly three-fourths (seventy two percent) of American heterosexual adults said they would not change their feelings toward a “favourite” male professional athlete if the athlete revealed he is gay.

This represents an increase from 66 percent in August 2002, when heterosexual adults were asked the same survey question.

In contrast, when asked how they think other sports fans would feel toward an openly gay sports figure, 72 percent say that others would have less favourable opinions. This measure, however, has decreased from 2002, when nearly eight in 10 revealed that they felt others would have a less favourable opinion.

These are some of the highlights of the survey of 2510 US adults conducted online between March 6 and 16, 2007.

“Openly gay and lesbian athletes have become far more visible in the nation’s major media with the ‘coming out’ of WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes and the very recent publication of the New York Times best-seller Man in the Middle by former NBA pro, John Amaechi,” said Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck-Combs Communications.

“Not only does public acceptance of gay athletes seem to be on the rise, but there’s slight progress in feelings that others are becoming more accepting as well,” he said.

Professional sports have long been seen as among the most difficult careers in which to be openly gay in the US.

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