With the beginning of the new year, all sorts of blogs and news outlets ran articles on the top events of 2008. One of the more intriguing posts to me came from the Outsports site.
The editors named the Summer Olympic Games diver, Matthew Mitcham, as the person of the year. They noted that the vote was overwhelming as Mitcham captivated gay people around the world with his gold-medal performance on the last day of Olympic diving in August. Mitcham executed the highest-scoring dive in Olympic history on his final dive to win gold.
Certainly the emphasis on the sporting accomplishment of Mitcham makes perfect sense. However, his story intrigues me in a much different way.
Mitcham's performance received less than stellar coverage from NBC and its multiple Olympic Games networks. We know that athletes have a greater struggle with their image if they have a gay or lesbian sexual orientation.
Look at how prevalent the television coverage of heterosexual athletes' boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, were during the Games. How come the boyfriend of the Australian diver Matthew Mitcham never appeared in a shot of the stands, despite being lovers with the winner of the Gold medal in the event?
The responses from the NBC executives are intriguing. "Up close and personal, get to know an athlete who has a unique story to tell." Geez, wouldn't Mitcham qualify as having a highly unique story?
The coverage of the women who were lesbians were as sparse, even when the athletes were Americans. An article by Patricia Neil Warren raises the issue of the slanted coverage that the gay media provided regarding the performances of Mitcham and the lesbians who won gold medals -- Natasha Kai on the U.S. women's soccer team, and team captain Gro Hammerseng and her partner Katja Nyberg on the Norwegian handball team.
Athletic images that are invisible because of their sexual interests. NBC executives finally apologized for not featuring even "regular" coverage of Mitcham's accomplishment. Perhaps an effort needs to be made to make sure that the apology turns into a positive accomplishment. How about coverage of gay and lesbian Olympians at the 2010 Games?