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30% of gay men and 40% of lesbians are passionate sports fans, survey says

Survey finds gay and straight men diverge in fan passion, while lesbians and straight women are in line with each other.

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Kansas City Chiefs fans of all sexual orientations celebrated the team’s Super Bowl win last year.
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Just in time for the Super Bowl, a new survey finds that 30% of gay men and 40% of lesbians identify as passionate sports fans.

Gay men are half as likely to be passionate sports fans compared to the 60% of straight men who say that, while the 40% number for lesbians mirrors that of straight women, according to the survey published last week in the Sociology of Sport Journal.

The study examined the fan interest in sports of 3,988 people, with 73% identifying as heterosexual, 14% as bisexual, 9% as lesbian or gay and 4% as a sexual identity other than heterosexual. The study was led by Rachel Allison, an associate professor of sociology at Mississippi State, and Ohio State sociology professor Chris Knoester was a co-author.

The survey found that only 11% of total respondents were not sports fans at all, with others falling on a scale of very much so, quite a bit, somewhat and little.

There were 203 gay men in the survey, or about 5% of the total sample, Knoester told me, and their interest in sport broke down as 17% very much so; 13% quite a bit; 30% somewhat, 24% a little and 16% not at all.

These numbers intuitively make sense to me as someone who has been writing about sports fandom and sexual orientation for more than 20 years. I am not surprised that straight men are more passionate fans than gay men or that straight women and lesbians have the same level of fan interest. “Identifying as lesbian does not seem to discourage sports fandom like identifying as gay does for men,” Allison said.

The 30% of gay men being passionate fans, though, flies in the face of stereotypes of many gay men who think few of their fellow gay men are sports fans, something Cyd Zeigler addressed last week. This survey finds almost twice as many gay men identifying as passionate fans as opposed to not being interested at all.

In my experience, many gay men are niche sports fans, with a passion for a specific sport such as tennis or events such as the Olympics and tune the rest out, as opposed to most straight men I know who seem to like a wide variety of sports. I am not surprised that among gay men, the somewhat or a little categories added up to more than half of the total (54%).

The value of the study is the large data pool, especially of the 27% of people who identify as other than straight. The survey participants are not a random sample but chosen from the National Sports and Society Survey, led by Knoester, which regularly examines societal perspectives on sports.

Among the factors weighed were whether people who grew up participating in sports and thinking of themselves as athletes were more likely to be big sports fans as adults (they were), and whether having negative experiences with sports as a kid in terms of being bullied or otherwise mistreated dulled the adult interest in sports (it did).

“Believing that LGBT athletes are mistreated in sports is negatively associated with adults’ sports fandom,” the study found. As Knoester noted, “You aren’t born being a sports fan. The differences in fandom we found here in this study are socially and culturally produced to a great extent, and they can be changed.”