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Homophobia rampant at Stars on Ice?

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As the "Johnny Weir family-friendly" story goes viral, it's interesting to look at the ice-show political background. Just two years ago, as 2008 came in, Johnny was set to skate for Champions on Ice, the gay-friendly tour where Rudy Galindo skated for an entire decade. Remember Rudy Galindo? Our 1996 U.S. National Champion who was not only out but as OTT as Weir in his own unique way? He who wore his own brand of outrageous costumes -- like fluttering rainbow flags, and Village People costumes, and a large sequinned star on his butt?

Champions on Ice was a big successful show since 1969. Despite competition from the newer Stars on Ice, COI hung in there through the peak of figure-skating popularity in the 1990s and a change of ownership in 2006. The show always took a liberal tack -- hiring not only the "safer" gold medalists and world champions, but controversial figures like Rudy Galindo. Like Surya Bonaly, who never medalled at the Olympics -- apparently because she was considered too athletic, muscular and masculine to fit the profile demanded of female figure-skaters. Like Oksana Baiul, in spite of her DUI arrest and notorious battles with drugs and booze.

Stars on Ice didn't debut till 1986, starting as the "American Tour" organized by Scott Hamilton, with sponsors Discover Card and Plymouth. Though Hamilton was openly homophobic, the show did have its gay faces in the earlier years -- Rob McCall and Brian Orser. But the emphasis began to veer towards male skaters like Kurt Browning who were paragons of "masculine heterosexual skating style." SOI's turning point into deep figure-skating conservatism probably came in 2001, when Smucker's became the show's title sponsor. Though the Ohio-based food company hasn't been screamingly high profile in politics, a glance at their political contribution record shows that they have contributed heavily to state and national Republican causes, including Mitt Romney and John McCain for President. Co-CEO Tim Smucker has served as a GOP delegate to the RNC.

Then, in December 2007, the roof fell in on COI. International Figure Skating Magazine reported, "When AEG Worldwide, one of the world’s leading sports and entertainment presenters, bought the Champions on Ice tour in 2006, company officials said they planned to take the tour around the world. [But] the ride has apparently come to an end. Phil Hersh (in a report in the L.A. Times) is reporting that the Champions on Ice 'is dead after a 38-year run....' The article indicated Stars on Ice, its rival tour managed by IMG, would take over the COI tour.'

The COI website is still up, but frozen in time -- complete with pics of its 2008 cast who were left high and dry by the closing -- stars like Victor Petrenko, Irina Slutskaya, Evgeny Plushenko, Sasha Cohen...and Johnny Weir.

So if a top skater wants to tour, Stars on Ice is now the only game in town. There is nowhere else for a brilliant and controversial figure to go -- not Weir or anybody else. How convenient for SOI, and for everybody in figure-skating who want to see certain skaters and certain skating styles disappear. SOI is now coiled in position, like the sequinned boa constrictor that they have become, to put the big squeeze on private lives of skating figures. Sasha Cohen is the only COI refugee who got herself onto Stars on Ice's 2010 tour.

SOI denies allegations that they're snubbing Weir because he's not "family friendly." It's also been alleged that SOI intended to hire only Vancouver medalists. But their 2010 roster includes some world and national champions who are not Olympic medalists. So if SOI really hungered to have three-times U.S. National Champion Weir on their roster, there would surely have been room for him.

Clearly the snub of Weir is part of a bigger paradigm shift in U.S. figure skating. Other things may be going on behind the scenes (Stars on Ice hasn't hired a single top Russian skater this time). Meanwhile, the Republicans who make all that strawberry jam at Smucker's mean it when they bill their ice show as "family entertainment." I would say that the issue is as much Weir's so-called "feminine" appearance and behavior as his actual sexual orientation. On the 2010 cast of SOI, the males are all certifiably "masculine looking" -- though their skating styles and costumes might be "artistic" enough to make Elvis Stojko gag.

Johnny Weir has said he'd like to launch his own show. With Champions on Ice gone, there is definitely room for a 2nd show that has more fire to it -- especially if Stars on Ice goes even more conservative.