Monday, August 25, 2008

A gay diver? Shocking!

There seems to be a bit of hullabaloo about NBC not making a bit of hullabaloo about Matthew Mitcham's sexuality.

In a sense they do have a point. NBC commentators delved into the personal lives of numerous athletes during the games, with most of the stories being far more mundane than his. Sports is after all partly about human interest stories. We want to root for people that inspire us personally and his story was certainly a great one for many gay viewers.

Of course NBC also has a point but one that they didn't express. The Olympics are watched by a worldwide audience that is far less supportive of homosexuality than the U.S. population, especially the worldwide sports audience. Most of their decisions are made with similar considerations and if there were hundreds of millions of people that would have enjoyed that story then no doubt it would have been the talk of the mens diving competition. Still, business is business and supporting homosexual pride just wasn't quite cost effective enough.

What I find more curious is that anyone is surprised. I just assumed that he was gay and in fact I assumed that most (or at least more than the average) of male divers are gay just like I assume that many male figure skaters are gay. Am I making a stereotype? Obviously yes but am I wrong? I doubt it.

This quote also requires a response:

"His sexuality, specifically because he’s the ONLY ONE, and because gay men are painted as unathletic in our culture, makes it a big part of the story."

Really? In my experience gay men (and far more prevalent stereotype about lesbians is that they are quite common as female athletes) are regarded as fitness freaks, very competitive, and quite athletic. It isn't that gay men aren't perceived as athletic it's that heterosexual athletes in generally mainstream athletics don't like homosexuals. Basketball, football, baseball, hockey, soccer, even tennis and golf all are generally sports that are hostile to gay men and that is an entirely different problem. Certainly no one who watches figure skating cares one way or the other and probably not in diving either.

Had Matthew Mitcham been a gay basketball player or discus thrower or even a swimmer then it would almost certainly been far too big a story to suppress over ratings concerns.

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