Earlier this year, figure skater Adam Rippon received international praise for being the first openly gay athlete to ever win a medal at the Winter Olympics. But, he revealed recently, the victory and the visibility that came with it opened him up to online death threats.
Speaking on The Domenick Nati Show, the bronze medallist spoke of a backlash which included “all sorts of threats, all sorts of negative comments and emails". He spoke matter-of-factly, as if it were a common occurrence, before shrugging the situation off with a joke about his trolls:
I wish I had that much time to waste, but I don’t.
Despite laughing off his online bullies, Rippon’s words highlight the ongoing prevalence of homophobia in the sports industry. Although it’s easy to assume these comments are only found in the muddiest depths of internet comment sections, one journalist contributed hugely to the problem back in 2016 at the Rio Summer Olympics.
In a now-deleted article, reporter Nico Hines published a lengthy piece ‘outing’ several gay Olympians he had come across when scrolling through Grindr, a queer dating app, which he had seemingly downloaded specifically to write the article. Some of these athletes had travelled from countries in which homosexuality is still illegal.
Seven months later, when he returned to his position as senior editor at The Daily Beast, he published an apology:
This article intruded into the lives of people who had a right to be left alone. For some readers it brought up old, ugly LGBT+ stereotypes. And I didn’t accurately represent myself during the reporting of the piece. These were all profound failures, and I’m sorry for them.
The picture was more optimistic at this year’s Winter Olympics, held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which have been celebrated by many as a landmark moment in sports history. Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy returned for another stellar year, whereas Eric Radford also became the first out gay Olympian to ever win gold.
Kenworthy has also opened up about the online homophobia he received in the wake of his success, tweeting a series of nasty screenshots on a recently-posted YouTube video. The caption read: “Them: It’s 2018 nobody cares that you’re gay. Homophobia doesn’t exist anymore. Get over yourself.”
Despite these occasional setbacks, it does at least seem that gay Olympians are steadily becoming more and more commonplace. After all, your sexuality has no impact on your performance. As Rippon himself hilariously summarised:
I was recently asked in an interview what it’s like to be a gay athlete in sports. I said that it’s exactly like being a straight athlete. Lots of hard work but usually done with better eyebrows.