Gay Group Demands Apology from Olympics Announcers
Homophobic remarks made about flamboyant figure skater Johnny Weir and other competitors by two sports announcers have been denounced by The Quebec Gay and Lesbian Council. The group has also called for an apology from Canadian French language broadcaster RDS, reported the Associated Press on Feb. 22.
RDS sports commentators Alain Goldberg and Claude Mailhot swapped wisecracks about Weir, including a suggestion that the figure skater be tested to determine his gender, in a reference to Caster Semenya, a South African runner who was subjected to gender testing after her winning performance last year in Germany. They also suggested that Weir should be competing in women’s events, rather than men’s. The duo further slammed Weir as "a bad example" of figure skating athletes.
The Quebec Gay and Lesbian Council posted a detailed account of the commentators’ exchanges on its Web site. "The CQGL demands public apology from these people for their offensive and derogatory comments against the figure skater Johnny Weir and his appearance at his performance in the short program held the previous day," text at the site read, going on to say that the announcer’s remarks were "each more insulting than the last... They perpetuate their own prejudices against homosexuals."
"The CQGL regards it as unacceptable for a sports commentator and host to mock and denigrate an athlete in this way because of his demeanour and non-conformity with gender stereotypes. Throughout the exchange, Mailhot and Goldberg, while paying lip service to Weir’s right to be who he is, attacked Weir for his supposed negative effect on the sport, and even suggested that Weir should undergo gender testing," reported the blog posted by Pride House, an Olympic venue for GLBT athletes, trainers, and others.
"These people attacked not only the athlete, but also gays, bisexuals, and heterosexuals who do not conform to social stereotypes of gender.
Their words perpetuate homophobic stereotypes," the blog quoted Foster as saying. "It’s even more distressing considering that one of them used to be an assistant deputy minister in the Quebec Ministry of Education, Leisure, and Sport." Added Foster, "Their comments are a blot on the Olympic spirit and their professions."
Though RDS did issue an apology, according to a Feb. 20 article at Yahoo! Sports, the apology referenced only "tactless comments on the appearance and manner of a figure skater," and did not extend to slurs regarding his gender or the "example" Weir sets.
"They only apologized for the comments they made on his outfit," said Steve Foster, the president of The Quebec Gay and Lesbian Council. "We hadn’t even asked for an apology for those remarks. It’s the rest of the comments: on his masculinity, his femininity, the fact he should skate as a woman."
"This may not be politically correct, but do you think [Weir] lost points due to his costume and his body language?" Mailhot asked Goldberg on air, following Weir’s disappointing sixth-place finish.
Spectators may have wondered the same thing. The event’s judges were using a new scoring system that placed greater emphasis on certain technical aspects--to the detriment of the athlete who had been favored to win, Russian skater Yevgeny Plushenko, who reckoned that he’d have taken the gold if the judges were using the previously employed scoring system.
Plushenko’s razor-thin margin of loss, however, was less controversial than the fact that Johnny Weir - who is widely speculated to be gay, though he has never confirmed it publicly in so many words - was ranked so poorly, despite his perfect technique. The Christian Science Monitor reported in a Feb. 19 article that the judges were unimpressed with Weir, whose performance was not as technically dazzling; Weir, for his part, cited a popular performer with a big gay following. "As Lady Gaga would say, ’I have all my role models out there,’" Weir told the press.
Mailhot and Goldberg weren’t the only sports commentators who were making sport of Weir; Australian presenters Eddie McGuire and Mick Molloy referenced the gay-themed movie "Brokeback Mountain" when discussing one skater’s costume, and jibing that it was a shock that another athlete was heterosexual.
The "figure skaters are gay" stereotype has led to a push recently to "masculinize" the sport’s image. Goldberg pointed to Weir as "a bad example" that cast a gay light on all figure skaters, telling Mailhot on air that, "They’ll think all the boys who skate will end up like him. It sets a bad example."
"The comment is so inappropriate that we will not even justify it with a response," the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Scott Blackmun, told the press.
Weir has been unapologetic about his public presentation, which, on and off the ice, has been seen as flamboyant--and forthrightly gay. But Weir has seemed to play with perceptions about sexuality, refusing to state his orientation and talking about his sport - which has a reputation for being "gay" - in terms that avoid labeling.
"I know that for the men’s population of the Unites States, figure skating is a ’gay’ sport, and that’s a misconception," Weir told Advocate.com in a Feb. 9 article. "There are so many straight athletes in figure skating. I think it’s the music and the costumes that turn most men off. Because they want to see, well, they want to see spandexed men hitting each other’s ass and throwing a ball. It’s very different."
In Weir’s case, argues Outsports.com’s Cyd Zeigler in a Feb. 17 article, his public persona is not simply a holdover of the sport’s theatricality: "Over the last four years, Weir has been the gayest thing in sports," Zeigler wrote. "He walked in the Heatherette show and appeared in Black Book in high heels. In his documentary, ’Pop Star On Ice,’ he’s in a bubble bath with his best friend, Paris, and he lies on the couch with a Hello Kitty doll. When ESPN asked him for an interview, he took the reporter for a mani-pedi. When I interviewed Weir last summer and asked him how many sequins are too many, he answered: ’What kind of question is that? There are never too many.’"
For Australian commentators Molloy and McGuire, however, the costumes were a subject of mockery - leading to viewer complaints and the establishing of Facebook page "Eddie McGuire is ruining the 2010 Winter Olympics coverage," reported U.K. newspaper The Sun on Feb. 19.
Commenting on the costumes worn by the skaters, Molloy remarked, "They don’t leave anything in the locker room these blokes, do they?"
"They don’t leave anything in the closet either, do they?" rejoined McGuire, who went on to suggest that the presence of a heterosexual skater in the competition was a rarity. Apologizing later, Molloy added a barb: "I suggested that there was a disaster happening at the ice skating rink because organizers had found out one of the male ice dancers wasn’t gay. And I apologize for that really sincerely. But it definitely wasn’t this guy." Molloy was referring to Weir, who was clad in dramatic attire and carrying a prop in the shape of a heart.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.