Olympic gold medalist Tom Shields got a new pair of exercise shoes recently, so he took to Instagram to gauge the reaction of his fans. He asked them in an Instagram story whether the shoes were “gay or next gen.” The picture has been removed, but Queerty has the screen shot.

It reminded me of Details magazine’s regular feature “Gay or….” series. It took a satirical look at the fashion of and lifestyles of different people or groups of people and how they seemed just a little stereotypically gay. They put rappers, the British, and even Jesus. It was their take on “Gay or Asian” that drew public ire and criticism.

While Queerty writer Graham Gremore takes issue with Shields’ question, it doesn’t seem to me to be harmful, and certainly not intended to harm. The Next Generation seems to me to be forward-thinking, forward-looking and ahead of its time. These are all good things, and the gays are often all of those things too. Comparing gay men’s tendencies to other groups isn’t always homophobic, and in this case I just don’t see the harm.

Regardless, Shields on Monday said he was sorry:

Ok. I said this. It was wrong. I'm sorry. Grew up using this as term for social control. Not an excuse. It doesn't matter what I meant, it associated a great community with being "less than", all that mattered was any pain I possibly brought into people's lives.For that I'm sorry

Not quite sure what he means about “term for social control,” but I guess he felt the need to share some regret.

What I appreciate is that Shields has clearly handled himself very well since this happened. There was no canned “apology” but a heart-felt message of regret. He removed the photo from Instagram, but then he owned up to it on Twitter sharing the image and not just trying to bury it. This seems like a really upstanding guy, and I hope this episode doesn’t linger with him past today.

Shields won a gold medal in the 4×100-meter medley relay at the 2016 Summer Olympics. He currently swims for Cal.

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