Out of the Locker Room Closet at the 2016 Rio Olympics
As the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro came to a close, with flags waving, the grand parade of athletes, and the stage exploding in bright colors, many incredible memories have been made. The achievements of the medal-winning athletes at the Rio Olympics will stand in the record books for years to come. There have been many highlights, and a handful of lowlights, in this Olympic competition.
Highlights of the competition include medal performances, gold and otherwise, by many of the premier athletes from around the world. The list of “firsts” in Olympic competition is quite interesting. This was the first Olympics in South America. This competition saw the first medal ever achieved by Fiji and the first gold by Vietnam. We saw Michael Phelps be the first to win four consecutive individual events. Usain Bolt was the first individual to win the 100 meter and 200 meter races three times, in addition to being a member of the 4 X 100 relay team. Ibtihaj Muhammad was the first U.S. athlete to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab. Justin Rose, of Great Britain, had the first hole-in-one in Olympic competition. Kim Rhode was the first to win Olympic medals on five continents. She also is the first Summer Olympian to win an individual medal in six consecutive Olympics. Each of these achievements is spectacular in their own right. Kudos also are extended to Katie Ledecky, Ryan Murphy, Lily King, and the two Simones—Biles and Manuel.
Where do we start in considering some of the lowlights? Ryan Lochte would be a good place. Yes, he is distraught over being forever in the shadow (and in the wake) of Michael Phelps. He is a great swimmer in his own right, but he has not been able to reach the level of success in swim competition that puts him in the headlines. This does not give him the right to go out on a drunken rampage with his teammates and then lie about their alleged “robbery.” Even Lochte’s apology was half-hearted, as he blamed the incident on his youth and his drunken state. Other lowlights include the classic belly flop by a Malaysian diver and the two-finger salute (one finger on each hand) by Irish boxer Michael Conlan.
The gold medal for lowlights is reserved for The Daily Beast (TDB). The editorial staff thought it would be a great tribute to the LGBT community by identifying gay athletes who were competing in Rio. Certainly by showcasing these athletes, it would be an inspiration to other athletes who were still in the closet. Sounds pretty admirable, doesn’t it? As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Whether these were truly their intentions, or TDB is operating in CYA mode, it failed miserably. The inherent problem with the article was the methodology that the reporter used. Nico Hines, of TDB, went on Grindr and trolled gay athletes who were seeking partners in Rio. Hines created a fake profile and contacted a variety of athletes. This in spite of being a straight married man.
Michaelangelo Signorile, in a blog for The Huffington Post, wrote, “This is where the appalling ignorance comes in. A hook-up app is a 2016 version of a gay bar, a gay bath, or even a 1950’s public restroom (the only place some gay men could meet for sex in many places in this country during that era)…What Hines did is equivalent to going undercover in a public restroom or a gay bar or sex club and luring people into revealing information about their sexual lives—people who may be deeply closeted because they could be fired, ostracized, or arrested—basically entrapping them, and then making the details public.” Following a heated backlash about the article, TDB removed the article from its website.
There remain, however, many reasons to celebrate the presence of gay athletes in global competition at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The vital and relevant difference is to recognize only those athletes who are open and out. There were fifty-three athletes at the Rio Olympics who are gay, lesbian, or bi, and have come out. Of that number, forty-two are women and eleven are men.
This information, along with more specifics, appeared in an article in Outsports written by Jim Buzinski.
He shares these thoughts: “[I]t’s obvious that many more times the number of LGB athletes are closeted or not out enough to want to go public. In fact, we had to remove two athletes from our list of out Olympians after they complained that they were not ’publicly’ out. To us, publicly out means having given a media interview or being out on social media. While these two athletes are gay, each claim that they never declared it publicly…It points up the difficult nature and degrees of ‘outness.’ The 53 truly out athletes are trailblazers and inspire other athletes by being able to compete at an elite level while being open and true to themselves. I hope that even more come out in the aftermath of Rio and we triple this number by the time Tokyo rolls around in 2020.”
There is a disparity between male and female athletes coming out. For some reason, it is more widely accepted when female athletes reveal themselves as lesbian. The stigma among male athletes being gay remains entrenched in the mindset of media and the public, not to mention the teams and sports themselves. While four of the twelve women on the U.S. women’s basketball team are out, none of the U.S. men’s basketball team have made the same declaration. In fact, none of the 450 members of the NBA are out. Jason Collins is the only NBA player who ever came out, and he retired after the 2013-14 season.
This trend goes even further when you consider that of the eleven male athletes in Rio who are out gays, none are American. When the Supreme Court approved same-sex marriage in June, 2015, it laid the groundwork for strident advances in LGBT equality. But until there is equality on the court of sports, much remains to be done. Let’s celebrate those LGBT athletes who competed in Rio, whether or not they took home any medals. Let’s also anticipate that locker room closet doors will begin to open even further, and that eventually these doors themselves become irrelevant.