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Runner's World sparks debate after featuring story of openly gay runner Austin Hendrix

The Associated Press ran a detailed feature on gays in sports, with the focus on Eastern Michigan runner Austin Hendrix. I had spoken to the writer, Nancy Armour, and she had found Austin's terrific coming out story on Outsports that ran in December. His journey was used in the AP story to illustrate the struggles faced by gay athletes and it was great that it ran on websites nationwide, including Austin's hometown paper in Ohio.

Runner's World, on its Facebook page, ran a link to Austin's story and it sparked a debate that has been so common on mainstream websites when dealing with gay issues, and one we sometimes overlook since it seldom occurs on gay-themed sites. Most of the comments supported Runner's World linking to the story, but there were a fair number of naysayers who, as always, missed the point.

  • Bye Bye Runner's World Magazine. Cancel my subscription. I don't read your magazine to be pushed to accept questionable behaviors or told that is acceptable and admirable...
  • I do not have hatred toward any gay/lesbian but at the same time I don't want to hear about it on FB, magazines or television and have to accept the lifestyle. Believe it or not that does not make me or anybody else that feels the same way a bigot, ignorant, etc!!
  • I thought this was a magazine for runners. Race, sexual orientation or his religious affiliation are irrelevant here. Austin should be recognize for running and running only! I'm straight and latino, so where are my kudos for that (see my point)? Editorial fail in Runners World part.

Then there were the voices of reason:

  • LOVE that he's openly gay. HATE that that's newsworthy. I'm looking forward to the day when America thinks it's no big deal.
  • Pretending there's not bigotry doesn't make it go away. Kudos are much deserved because coming out can still be a frightening experience for gay people in this country, especially male athletes. Congratulations to him and congratulations to... his teammates who have responded so positively. Hopefully, before too long, this won't be news. But for now, it provides an example for other gay athletes who may feel like they are alone in their concerns.
  • Thanks for sharing this news! So silly that there are people who still feel they have to throw bible passages at anyone who celebrates equality.

To the people who wonder why this is a story: It will cease being a story when all LGBT athletes are free to be themselves openly with fear of ridicule, banishment or violence. The fact that almost no one is out in any sport makes those who are out newsworthy by their very existence. The media get that, even if many people, through ignorance or hate, don't.

Also, straight athletes broadcast their sexual orientation any time they mention a wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend, which is common in any media profile. The day that a gay male athlete can casually mention his boyfriend or husband without it being the focus of the story is the day we know equality has been won.

Runner's World, to its credit, stood by its decision to highlight Austin's story and never backed down despite the criticism. Austin used the Runner's World debate to reaffirm why he told his story, writing on his Facebook page:

Want to see the real reason I shared my story? Go to Runner's World Magazine facebook page ... Think it's not an issue? This is just sad. Thanks to Runner's World though, appreciate it.