Over this past week the gay media has been abuzz over out Australian diver Matthew Mitcham's gold medal upset in Beijing. After faltering early on in the competition, he made it to the finals and got the gold.
I don't care much about sports, and the Olympics were only on in the background here when Alberto's parents were visiting last week, but I heard it was quite the spectacle.
What grabbed my attention in this story was when attention shifted over to the mainstream media's coverage of Mitcham's sexuality. Cyd Zeigler at OutSports explains why Mitcham's sexuality is news:
It was disappointing to see NBC not mention anything about Matthew Mitcham's sexuality. The biggest reason for me is a journalistic reason: It's a big story. The only openly gay male athlete in Beijing pulled off one of the great upsets at the Olympics in a spectacular fashion. If he had had cancer, or if his parents had been killed in a car crash when he was 2, or if he had just proposed to his girlfriend, they would have mentioned it. But they never showed him hugging his boyfriend, never mentioned it. They referred to "personal problems," but I'm afraid they decided Matthew's sexuality was off limits. A real shame.
"NBC did not mention Mitcham's orientation, nor did they show his family and partner who were in the stands. NBC has made athletes' significant others a part of the coverage in the past, choosing to spotlight track athlete Sanya Richards' fiancee, a love triangle between French and Italian swimmers and Kerri Walsh's wedding ring debacle"
In fact, it's not easy to find a mention of him being gay in the press today at all. Only a handful of sites and newspapers are mentioning it. Even the New York Times decided to not mention his sexuality, or his struggle to get his partner to Beijing with him. People will say, "it's not part of the story, he's just an athlete," but they are wrong. 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.
Cyd goes on to list a few of the places where Mitcham's sexuality has been mentioned, but it's not much.
Well, NBC responded in an interview with Mike Jensen over at AfterElton:
While the issue has been addressed and debated by various blogs and writers, until we contacted NBC they were unaware of the controversy. "I'm not aware of any controversy," said Hughes. "Yours is the first call."
When asked why at no point during the coverage did NBC mention Mitcham was gay or that his partner was in the stands, Hughes said, "In virtually every case, we don't discuss an athlete's sexual orientation."
When it was pointed out that in fact the network does exactly that by telling viewers about Olympic athletes' various spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, and even in one case a heterosexual "love triangle" Hughes responded, "Not in every case. Not every athlete has a personal discussion. I could show you 500 athletes we didn't show. We don't show everyone. We don't show every ceremony."
But surely, taking into account Mticham's stunning come-from-behind victory, the historical significance of his achievement as a gay man, and his own personal history, it seems unlikely the vast majority of those other athletes truly have as compelling a story as Mitcham. Said Hughes, "How do you know that? How do you know that someone on the rowing team doesn't have as compelling a story?"
Pressed that it was hard to believe that there truly any other athletes with stories as compelling as Matthew's, especially ones who single-handedly prevented the Chinese from sweeping all of the gold medals in an entire sport, Hughes would only say, "It's not possible to cover the entire personal story of every athlete regarding their performance. ... It's just not possible to single out coverage. "
Not only does Mitcham have to have a compelling personal story, apparently we have to prove that no one else does. And not to get coverage of him, because there already was coverage of him, but to just keep the cameras from turning away when he went to kiss his partner and to get a mention of his sexuality in the same way that another male diver's girlfriend would be mentioned if he had fought to get sponsors to pay her way as they do other girlfriends, in the same way that a Jewish athlete's religion would be mentioned if there were only 11 Jews at the Olympics.
Patricia Nell Warren posted this morning about how gaystream media has been too focused on Mitcham and has ignored other out athletes, even those who won gold medals. He made the cover of The Advocate; the others are barely being talked about.
While there are many explanations for the imbalance of coverage (the others won in team sports, they won in lower-profile sports, some won silver and bronze instead of gold), Patricia mentions what's probably the biggest reason: he's a hot guy who competes in a sport where he has to be almost naked.
It's more than just the fact that gay men in the community like hot men, but also that pictures of hot men sell. I can only imagine the editorial conversation at The Advocate, with someone eventually mentioning that it's OK! They can put an almost naked hot boy pic on the cover of the magazine and it still counts as serious!
After editing TBP for over a year now, I'm intimately aware with the fact, no matter how highly we think of ourselves or how much we think we need to move on from this, hot boy pics get hits online. And I'm sure that means that they sell magazines too.
Despite the lower profile in the mainstream media of the other out athletes, if we justify talking about them in our community media by saying that they're heroes and role models to young queer people (which they are), then there's no reason to repeat the mainstream media's mistake in not giving them much coverage.
Because when the mainstream media doesn't mention the sexualities of out athletes (or nonchalantly mention their same-sex lovers), it gives the false impression that the Olympics are for straight people and that LGBT people can't compete. And when LGBT media obsesses over one of the athletes to the exclusion of the others, it doesn't do much to compensate.