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Figure skater Nathan Chen apologizes for homophobic remarks

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The American figure skater expressed frustration with stereotypes of being a straight skater in a ‘homosexual-dominated sport’ and then apologized.

U.S. Figure Skating Championships
American figure skater Nathan Chen.
Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

American champion figure skater Nathan Chen apologized this week for homophobic comments he made on a podcast where he discussed his frustrations dealing with stereotypes “as a straight male athlete in a... fairly.... homosexual-dominated sport, or LGBTQ-dominated sport.”

“I recently did an interview where I was asked if people ever ask me why I don’t play hockey because of the connotation that skating is quote-unquote feminine and hockey is quote-unquote masculine. I gave an ignorant response to the question and I want to apologize for that,” Chen said in a video statement on Twitter.

I am not sure what podcast Chen, 22, made his remarks on, but a user on Twitter saved it on his phone before the podcasters allegedly removed it from YouTube. Here is the podcast, with a transcript below.

Q: Is that a thing that happens to you all the time, where people just go, well, why don’t you play hockey, simply because of the connotation [that] ice skating is feminine and the patriarchy said that hockey, because you’re hitting each other, is masculine? Is that something that comes up?

Chen: Yes, certainly. Especially as a male athlete... as a straight male athlete in a... fairly.... homosexual-dominated sport, or LGBTQ-dominated sport... I think that there is that connotation and there is that “Well we don’t really wanna watch guys skate around,” and [unintelligible] we’d rather watch hockey or... we’d rather watch females do that, which I think is... pretty messed up in itself... we’re all doing this... for us, it’s a genuine sport... we spend our whole lives trying to hone this craft... and to just sort of be belittled like that is not... something that is... generally taken lightly.

“But I think that... a lot of my friends who are skaters are trying to in a sense change the way that that’s approached, because... traditionally speaking we always skate to a lot of classic pieces, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, I think that’s absolutely fine, I think [if] that’s something you’re passionate about, that you connect with, that’s totally cool, but I think there can be pieces out there, some of my friends and skaters like... more pop or hip hop style songs and that generates a lot more interest, like, ‘Oh, dude,’ you know, one of my friends skated to ‘Turn Down For What,’ ... and people lost their minds for that... and obviously that’s not... the most absurd song... but... within the skating world, that’s pretty kind of like out there... and I think just having a little bit more... hip hop or more like a dance feel that doesn’t necessarily gear towards... posh sort of ballet-style movement can... shift that approach to skating.”

In his apology, Chen acknowledged that he knew his remarks were hurtful:

“I recently did an interview where I was asked if people ever ask me why I don’t play hockey because of the connotation that skating is quote-unquote feminine and hockey is quote-unquote masculine.

“I gave an ignorant response to the question and I want to apologize for that. In that moment I had the opportunity to shut down the perception that there is such a thing as a masculine or feminine sport and to shed light that these perceptions have created an environment that make it unsafe, stigmatizing and even career-ending for athletes to come out.

“Skating is an art form as much as it is a sport. And the beauty in that is that there is room for individual expression and that’s something that should be celebrated. But instead of saying something meaningful I blurted out statements that aren’t even true, used language that’s harmful to the LGBTQIA+ community and to women and minorities and centered the response around myself.

“This was my chance to build toward more inclusivity in the sport and I messed it up. At the end of the day I love skating and all the people in it and I’m committed to growing myself so that I can be a more deserving member of the figure skating community. To those who reached out and spoken up, thank you for your honesty and accountability. I’m inspired by your drive to make the world a better place.”

Chen’s podcast remarks were ignorant, tone-deaf, homophobic and sexist and he deserved the hammering he took from skating fans on Twitter. What bothered me from the start was that he wasted no time assuring his interviewers that he was straight, while his contention that skating is a “homosexual-dominated sport” is both insulting and wrong.

If “homosexuals” dominate the sport, why were there only three publicly out LGBTQ men and zero women skaters at the 2018 Winter Olympics? We know why — fear of having their careers derailed. It’s long been the case in the sport.

Unlike some others, I found Chen’s apology a step in the right direction, but he now needs to do more. He can start by reaching out to LGBTQ skaters and listening to their stories. And then he can follow up by being a strong public voice for inclusion in a sport that has kept LGBTQ skaters in the closet. Stop telling people you’re straight right off the bat. If he just figures his apology is enough, what he said will ultimately be meaningless.