In honor of the “gayest” winter Olympics I thought I would write about gay athletes and share some uplifting, and challenging, stories. The 2018 winter olympics have been a powerful moment for gay men in sport. Eric Radford, a fellow Canadian, became the first out male athlete to win gold in the winter Olympics. Of course we’ve all been hearing a lot from Gus Kenworthy, and Adam Rippon, for a while. We can add Jorik Hendrickx (Belgium) to this small but growing list.
This might not seem like a lot of men, or even like a big deal, but, until very recently Olympians didn’t feel safe to come out until their careers, endorsement potential, and network hosting opportunities, had become a thing of the past. Now we are experiencing, out, loud, and proud young men representing their countries, and our community, in the Olympics.
But this trend isn’t limited to the rarefied atmosphere of the Olympics. From high school, to college, to professional sports, record numbers of athletes are coming out as gay or bi.This is significant because sport is among the last bastions of institutionalized homophobia.
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Xavier Colvin, a linebacker at Butler University recently came out to his team mates by grabbing a mic and making the announcement. He had very positive experience after years of struggle. “A lot of times when it comes to gay men in sports we feel like people think we will be ‘less-than’ because of our personal life. I got so caught up trying to please others that I fell into a path of always trying to help others and not myself. Finally I became courageous enough to be myself.”
For other athletes like out high school wrestler Jesse Loera learning to use other’s homophobic remarks as fuel in competition turned out to be a winning strategy. An out college hockey player had a similar response after a competitor called him faggot: “But at the same time it fueled my fire in a way that drove me to play better the rest of the game. I started hitting a lot more because I wanted this ‘faggot’ to beat them.”
Like many of us, talks about how being in the closet robs us of an important human experience, flirting. Being able to acknowledge and act on mutual attraction is one of the most important reasons he thinks coming out is magic. I have to say I agree. Even when we are unsure how our flirting will be received many of us will hold back rather than risk a negative reaction.
Recently a group of six Yale athletes got together and formed a support group for LGBT athletes at the school. “Our end goal is to create an infrastructure and a social and institutional culture where any athlete feels comfortable coming out and being a queer athlete at Yale,” diver Wayne Zhang told Yale Daily News.
On the professional side a group of Mexican soccer stars recently released a video communicating to fans that homophobic chants in the stands are not an acceptable way to cheer them on.
We still have a long way to go until the world of sort is more accepting of gay men, but, when I think about my horrible experiences as an out gay high school athlete in the ’70’s these developments give me real hope that one day no athlete will ever hide who they are for fear of mistreatment by their team mates.