Of course male figure skater Johnny Weir is gay, as are Jeff Buttle and a host of others. Who are we trying to kid? We’ve managed to force male sportswriters to stop pretending that every elite athlete is straight, which was the problem before. I put in a lot of years of newspaper writing trying to kill that idea off. And now, like rebranding creationism as intelligent design, we’re being sold the same tainted tuna in a different can. Suddenly we’ve got sportswriter guys defending the right of gay athletes never to come out and never to be asked if they’re actually gay. I didn’t think things could be worse than the olden days, but this certainly is.
Straight sports reporters telling everybody to keep quiet about gays in sports is the problem. These are mostly guys; even the leading Canadian women in sportswriting, of the Rosie DiManno/Crusty Blatchford ilk, are flat-out male apologists. Sportswriter guys are, on the whole, dumpy or aging and look with great fondness at the physical capabilities and the actual bodies of the male athletes they cover. I have ten years’ worth of clippings to prove it, up to and including yesterday, in which a guy writer tells us “the well-muscled Brown is an impressive specimen in his skintight racing suit.” Sportswriters love black guys the most. Understandable, but never admitted. Sportswriters don’t like admissions; they like assumptions, including the one where everybody they cover is straight, except the gay ones, the fact of which must never be revealed at any cost.
Sexual behaviour can be private but sexual orientation isn’t and can’t. If you think that’s too broad, apply it solely to public figures, which Olympic athletes surely are. In the 21st century, they don’t get to hide in the closet or be coy. What you call outing we call reporting. When do journalists report that straight athletes are straight? All the time.
- Lascelles Brown “began training in Calgary, where he met and married his Canadian-born wife Kara” (Brandon Sun)
- Speed skater Marianne Timmer was “briefly married to her then-coach and former Olympic champion Peter Mueller” (Reuters)
- Hockey player Bret Hedican “met briefly at the 1992 Olympics but did not begin dating until 1995. They were married in 2000” (Reuters – note the precise chronological documentation of Hedican/Yamaguchi heterosexualism)
- “Ukrainian husband-and-wife team Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov” compete in figure skating (Reuters)
- Cross-country skier Sara Renner “is married to Canadian Olympic alpine skier Thomas Grandi” (CBC)
Think of all those personality profiles you see on the Olympics – like the one with Lascelles Brown’s driver, Pierre Lueders, walking down a country road with his wife and child. And wasn’t it amusing to read of Sergei Fedorov and Anna Kournikova’s relationship for lo those many months? (Wasn’t their covert marriage and divorce even more delicious?) How is that not reporting sexual orientation?
Do straight people, including athletes, even have a “sexual orientation” or “sexuality”? These are, after all, codewords for “gay” the way “race” is a codeword for black or anything other than white. Sportswriters never have to delve into straight athletes’ sexuality because it’s never hidden and straight people don’t have a “sexuality” in the first place. The assumptions are so thorough and embedded that documenting an entire courtship between two athletes doesn’t raise an eyebrow but even suggesting that their colleagues do some actual reporting and ask Johnny Weir “Are you gay?” provokes a fusillade of faux-scandalized responses. Even asking Weir about a poll one step removed from the topic “felt badly misplaced” and made a sportswriter guy “really feel like to be taken outside and hosed off.”
Straight sports reporters and “ethicists” don’t get to dictate how we handle gays in sports. Straight people telling gays to keep quiet, or telling other straight people never to ask about being gay, is, I repeat, the problem. It isn’t up to straight people to determine how much protection closeted public figures should receive; straight people prop up the closet the most. You make it impossible for a young athlete to simply be out all his (indeed his) life and never have to actually “come out.”
You aren’t doing us a favour by refusing to talk about gays in sports because it bruises your sense of decorum. Your gentleman’s agreement never to talk about us results in lying to your readers, some of whom are us.
There’s nothing wrong with being gay and there’s nothing wrong with asking if a public figure is.