Snowboarder Eric Willett doesn’t speak highly of gays on Instagram... or of LeBron James jumping into a pool of water.
Last week Willett took to a Barstool Sports video of (then free agent) LeBron James plunging from a cliff into a pool of water, all the while seemingly trying to fly by flapping his arms.
This was, according to Willett, GAY!!!!
Here’s the screen capture of his comment, which we have confirmed live on Instagram, in case his publicist tells him to delete it:
Willett did not respond to an Instagram message requesting comment.
On the one hand it shouldn’t be a surprise that Willett left his comment on a video posted by Barstool Sports. Barstool caters to people of the lowest social responsibility and has traded for years in, most notably, rampant sexism.
On the other hand, what on earth could any public figure be thinking using “gay” as a derogatory term? Has Willett suffered too many concussions from falls? Has he ben living under a snowbank for the last five years?
Actually, he’s possibly just being a snowboarder.
When I interviewed Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy for Out magazine earlier this year, he talked about the regular use of “gay” and gay slurs by snowboarders to demean other people — In his case, they used it to demean skiers (because, apparently, skiing isn’t as cool or “straight” as snowboarding).
“As a skier we used to get called the skier fags,” Kenworthy told me. “And it was hard for me growing up because I was like, ‘fuck I don’t want to actually fulfill that destiny, I don’t want to be that thing they’re saying that I am,’ even though I am.”
People like Willett regularly defend themselves by saying “I didn’t mean that I’m anti-gay.” Yet Kenworthy’s discussion with me about how it felt for him — a gay skier in the closet being called gay slurs — sheds light on the power of this unintentional and often mindless language.
“It’s people using ‘gay’ not as actually gay, but because it’s them discrediting something,” Kenworthy told me in March. “And it’s hard knowing people are using this word to associate something in a negative way, and lump it into this pile they’re trying to discredit completely. And yet that’s the pile you find yourself in, and the word they’re using to put you there is a word that actually makes up a huge part of who you are. That’s hard.”
When Kenworthy came out several years ago, fellow skier Alex Schlopy penned a column for Outsports talking about the prevalence of “gay” cracks and slurs in winter sports, even admitting he had used them despite having gay friends.
“I’ve used gay slurs because I didn’t realize the power behind the words and how commonly they are used,” Schlopy wrote.
Hopefully Willett chooses to learn from this instead of getting defensive or trying, in some way, to explain this away. Seeing words like “gay” used to insult people, as Kenworthy said, only reinforces in the minds of LGBTQ people that they are bad in the eyes of their peers. (And make no mistake, Willett was not trying to compliment James on his flapping arms.)
Snowboarders like Willett are better than that on many levels.