Over the last couple weeks I’ve been asked by several people about the importance of out LGBTQ athletes at these Beijing Winter Olympics. My response is repeatedly the same: It’s up to the broadcast networks — in the United States, that’s NBC — and their choice of whether to specifically talk about these athletes being gay, bi or lesbian.
After a few nights of competition, as well as the Opening Ceremony, it’s clear NBC is again choosing to ignore the words “gay,” “lesbian” or “LGBTQ” during their Olympics broadcasts.
Last Friday night, NBC played footsie with LGBTQ athletes during the Olympics Opening Ceremony, failing to proactively mention — as best anyone can tell — the presence of the community in any significant way during the network’s three-hour broadcast of the Opening Ceremony.
At the same time, the network’s main commentators — Mike Tirico and Savannah Guthrie — spent plenty of time highlighting the fact that human rights issues swirl around China hosting these Winter Olympics. They even brought on China experts to talk about the crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong and the treatment of the Muslim Uyghurs in the country. Kudos to NBC for this!
Yet as a record number of publicly out LGBTQ athletes takes center stage at these Olympics, and given the terrible track record of LGBTQ rights in China, it’s disappointing that NBC would spend three hours broadcasting the Opening Ceremony and never say the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “nonbinary” or “LGBTQ,” especially given these athletes’ presence.
The straight-washing of the NBC Olympics started in earnest in 2008. Matthew Mitcham had single-handedly stopped a Chinese sweep of Olympic diving gold at those Beijing Summer Olympics, one of the major stories to come out of those Games.
With his boyfriend in the stands, Mitcham had come out publicly just a couple months earlier. It was a gay hero stopping China — where LGBTQ equality is non-existent — from its most sought-after glory.
NBC didn’t say a word about Mitcham being gay or his boyfriend there watching him.
The network’s ignoring of the community has continued through erasing Tom Daley’s Oscar-winning husband, calling a lesbian volleyball player’s wife her “husband” (yes, that actually happened), and straight-washing the 2018 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony.
As I said four years ago... here we go again.
It’s not like the network ignored social and human-rights issues during this year’s Opening Ceremony broadcast. As I said, the broadcasters covered a couple controversies regarding China pretty well. Tirico and Guthrie talked also about women earning historic spots at these Games. They mentioned the potential impending war between Russia and Ukraine.
The importance of a record number of LGBTQ athletes in a country where the LGBTQ community is severely oppressed?
Bye gurl bye.
What might be the craziest part of this: NBC had the perfect opportunity. tailor-made for American storytelling.
The network highlighted the moment Bowe got the news of being named a flag bearer, and then focused on her during the Parade of Nations, even speaking with her during the parade.
Despite all of that, there was zero mention of the fact that Bowe was THE ONLY OUT LGBTQ ATHLETE CARRYING ANY COUNTRY’S FLAG! And while they did a whole segment on the family of the other flag bearer — curler John Shuster — Bowe’s family got just a passing reference.
For NBC to entirely ignore Bowe’s piece of history in the Parade of Nations is journalistic malpractice.
It hasn’t stopped there.
In the women’s snowboard halfpipe, there were 22 competitors. Only one athlete in the event — Sarka Pancochova — is publicly out. NBC showed the runs of the first 21 competitors, cutting out just before Pancochova’s run.
Intentional or not, it was an unfortunate choice.
The one shining light may be American Andrew Blaser, who is the first out gay man in skeleton at the Olympics. He reportedly has a rainbow sticker on his sled and the USA Network commentators, according to one reader, mentioned why.
Thank you for that, NBC!
Still, there are a record number of gay men in the Olympics, most of them in figure skating. Has NBC mentioned that during any broadcast? Not that I have seen. When I asked on Twitter, the response was crickets.
If that’s not the case, please send me the clip — I HOPE I’m wrong about that.
Charley Cullen Walters, creator of Gold Meets Golden and a prominent gay Olympics reporter and aficionado, said he and others he’s spoken to have noticed the same thing.
“As someone who has covered LGBT Olympians on the ground at the Games in the past, it’s disheartening to see them not be featured this year,” said Walters. “I hope NBC can still turn It around as these are prime stories to be applauded and we need to continue to raise the bar and expectation of LGBT-focused coverage with each Games.”
Is it possible that buried somewhere in their many hours of coverage there has been a mention? Sure. Yet as I said, I’ve asked a bunch of people and it seems no one in my network has seen it.
I don’t know what NBC’s Olympics coverage holds. With at least 36 publicly out LGBTQ athletes representing 14 countries across many sports, there will be numerous opportunities to elevate the conversation about our inclusion in sports and our equality:
- There are nine out figure skaters, a record
- 12 out ice hockey players, a record
- Also in skeleton, Kim Meylemans and Nicole Silveira are girlfriends competing against one another.
- Skier Gus Kenworthy has a long-term boyfriend.
- Brittaney Bowe and Ireen Wust are out legends in speed skating.
Sadly I don’t have a lot of hope, because in the peacock network’s first week of Olympics coverage, they’ve blown it. Again.