(This story was published in 2007).
Homophobia is sports is sad. It's even sadder when it's practiced by an openly gay person. But that's what has happened to American figure skater Johnny Weir.
Weir was slammed on a recent cable TV skating show called "Nancy Kerrigan's World of Figure Skating." The culprit was Mark Lund, the openly gay founder of "International Figure Skating" magazine and most recently a judge on Fox's "Skating With Celebrities."
In discussing the upcoming U.S. men's figure skating nationals, the show featured a segment on Weir, a three-time defending champion. As usual, Weir was his flamboyant self, discussing part of his long program "loosely based on Jesus Christ." That was enough for Lund to crucify him a segment later with Kerrigan and host Lou Tilley.
"I can't wrap my head around how overly out he is without saying he's out," Lund said. "I'm sorry, but I don’t think he's representative of the community I want to be a part of. … And who designs these outfits? You cannot compare yourself to the Lord's savior as a figure skater."
I'm not sure what "community" Lund is referring to – the gay community? The skating community? The community of bitchy queens? (watch the YouTube video and you'll see why Lund fits that category).
Lund went on to sing the praises of Weir's chief rival, Evan Lysacek, who projects a much more mainstream and conformist image on and off the ice.
Lysacek "has a classical elegance and masculinity on the ice I think we need to see in male figure skating. I'm saying I don't need to see a prima ballerina on the ice." Kerrigan chimed in that Lysacek "can relate to more people," while "Johnny is a little more out there."
Here's why what Lund said smacked of homophobia and insecurity – it says there can be only one standard of masculinity and the Lund's of the world are threatened by someone who stretches the boundaries. But real masculinity comes in all forms, and sometimes it wears a boa. In Weir's case it comes packaged in a terrific athlete with a real dramatic and artistic flair.
Lund's comments also shows fear that mainstream America won't accept an athlete who doesn't fit the narrow standard of what it means to be a male and an athlete. The reality, at least in figure skating, belies that notion. The media loved Weir at the 2006 Olympics and NBC made Weir a household name. People laughed with Johnny as he played the diva with a wink and a nod, not at him.
I have said that if Johnny Weir is not gay, then neither am I. But, like anyone else, it is his right to come out or not, and on his own terms. Weir knows that the closet cases who still hold sway in skating could punish him if he shows more guts than they ever have. As Lorrie Kim wrote for us a year ago: "What hasn't changed is that many of the officials, judges, and skating federations, especially in the U.S., make it clear that they prefer male skaters to look 'masculine' and will be harsher on effeminate-looking skaters when it comes to giving marks or desirable competitive assignments."
In his book, "On Edge: Backroom Dealing, Cocktail Scheming, Triple Axels, and How Top Skaters Get Screwed," openly gay skating judge Jon Jackson wrote: "I would later experience first hand, in the skating world, that instances of homophobia by gay men toward 'suspected' gay men are not unusual at all."
Prior to last year's Olympics, Jackson added: "The skaters absolutely feel that pressure. This comes across in every discussion I've had with a gay skater, that they really feel that they have to present themselves as a 'passable' masculine skater."
Lund fuels this tyranny of masculinity by mocking Weir for his costumes and choice of programs. I would have expected such ignorant comments from a Focus on the Family type, not an openly gay man. It makes Lund's remarks that much more pathetic.
Jan. 10, 2007
Tip of the hat to AfterElton.com for alerting us to this video.
Jan. 15 update: The producer of the ice skating show has apologized for comments made by Lund about Weir.
Jerry Solomon, executive producer, on behalf of Nancy Kerrigan and the cast and crew of "Nancy Kerrigan's World of Skating" send this in response to the outcry from Weir's fans: "We understand that Mark Lund's comments on "Reflections Off the Ice: Countdown to the National Skating Championships" have caused quite a reaction. Anyone that knows Mark knows that he is not mean-spirited nor prone to personal attacks. In fact, as a former skater himself, founder of International Figure Skating Magazine and a regular commentator on the world of skating, Mark has a history of promoting and protecting the sport and its participants.
"If Mark's comments regarding Johnny Weir have offended anybody we sincerely apologize. Nancy made this known publicly on CN8's "Your Morning" show on Thursday, January 11. In case there is any doubt, we all think very highly of Johnny and had actually hoped he would join us on the show to help us preview the Nationals (he was not available). Johnny Weir is and has been a great and entertaining US Champion and we wish him all the best in the upcoming US Nationals.
"Finally, we want to thank you for taking the time to let us know your feelings. It is our intent to report on figure skating and promote the sport through a variety of means. We have no interest in deliberately causing controversy or raising issues that are not in the best interests of the sport. We agree that in this instance, Mark's comments may have crossed the line. We hope you accept this apology in the spirit that it is given and hope you will enjoy future shows that try to bring you behind the scenes and on the ice."
Weir fans caused such a dustup that they went onto Lund's Wikipedia entry and caused a debate about whether it should be deleted or not. --Jim Buzinski