Conversations around sexual orientation and sport have swirled around the upcoming Winter Olympics, which kick off on Feb. 7 in Sochi, Russia, ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a "homosexual propaganda" ban into law in July. More recently, the mayor of Sochi told reporters that "[homosexuality is] not accepted here in the Caucasus where we live. We do not have [gay people] in our city." Perhaps due to fears of legal retribution in a country that doesn't exactly hold the best track record for respecting human rights and an maintaining equitable criminal justice system, Outsports has tallied only six openly gay Olympians competing at Sochi, all of whom are women from outside the United States.
President Obama won't be attending the Sochi Games and notably appointed three gay athletes to the U.S. Olympic delegation, in what many interpret as a symbolic protest against Putin's LGBTQ discrimination. One of those athlete delegates, former figure skating world champion Brian Boitano, is a compelling choice because his name has popped up often in a stateside conversation regarding latent homophobia on American ice rinks. A pair of feature-length stories out this week in Newsweek and Buzzfeed investigates U.S. male figure skating's uncomfortable relationship with its often-closeted gay athletes. In 2006, Lorrie Kim at Outsports reported: "What percentage of male figure skaters is gay? Unofficial insider estimates range from 25% to nearly 50%." But according to stories from such insiders, being openly, outwardly gay attracts penalties from judges and the U.S. Figure Skating Association.
Both articles, for instance, quote from "Welcome to My World," written by figure skating sensation Johnny Weir who came out publicly in 2011:
The history of men's interest in ice skating is a fascinating one, with the sport initially gaining popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries among male aristocrats. By the 1950s, however, it was assumed to be a girlier sport, and that feminine stereotype has only intensified due in part to the sparkly uniforms and ballet-like movements, not to mention feature films devoted to poking fun at men on ice. But this closeting of male figure skaters alleged in this week's recommended reads is no joking matter, as it touches on the often problematic intersection of sport, hegmonic masculinity and sexual orientation.
"The Frozen Closet" by Abigail Jones. Jan. 30, 2014. Newsweek.
"Why is the world's gayest sport stuck in the closet?" by Blair Braverman. Jan. 31, 2014. Buzzfeed.