The telephone poll of 1,008 U.S. adults for the Barna Group, a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies, found only 19 percent said professional faith leaders had more influence than athletes, 8 percent said they have equal influence, 10 percent said they were not sure, while 64 percent said sports figures had greater influence.
Professional football player Tim Tebow was the most prominent athlete known for his faith at 51 percent, followed by 2 percent for retired pro football player Kurt Warner and 2 percent for Jeremy Lin, a professional basketball player.
Americans who favored public displays of faith in sports said they do so primarily because they believe athletes should have freedom of speech. However, most adults said when an athlete talks about his or her faith publicly it does not make much of a difference for those who hear the comments.
David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, said the strong and positive awareness of Tebow and his faith reveals Americans -- and particularly Christians -- desire for an authentic role model who is willing to publicly connect his faith and life.
"Americans are keenly aware of and concerned about maintaining religious liberty. Even if they didn't agree with or particularly care for an athlete's faith declarations, Americans would be hesitant to limit that person's ability to speak up about their faith," Kinnaman said in a statement. "The real question, though, would be whether or not Americans would embrace athletes publicly promoting a faith other than Christianity. In fact, the only non-Christian athlete who showed up in the research was Muhammad Ali. However, his connection to the Muslim faith was only mentioned by 1 percent of adults."
The OmniPoll survey has a margin of error of 3 percentage points. It wasn't reported when the poll was taken