Was Anti-Gay Bias at Work in Men’s Figure Skating Decision?
Flamboyant skater Johnny Weir fell out of the top tier of competition, taking sixth place in the Men's Figure Skating contest at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver; meantime, two Australian sports announcers known for their laddish banter drew criticism for the homophobic tone of their commentary regarding the sporting event. Viewers were left to wonder: just how much did anti-gay bias affect the final results?
While commentators Eddie McGuire and Mick Molloy were referencing the gay-themed movie "Brokeback Mountain" and jibing that one skating contestant's being heterosexual was a shock, the judges were using a new scoring system that placed greater emphasis on certain technical aspects--to the detriment of the athlete who had been favored to win, Russian skater Yevgeny Plushenko, who reckoned that he'd have taken the gold is the judges were using the previously employed scoring system.
But Plushenko's razor-thin margin of loss was less controversial than the fact that Johnny Weir--who is widely speculated to be gay, though he has never confirmed it publicly in so many words--was ranked so poorly, despite his perfect technique, that he came in sixth. The Christian Science Monitor reported in a Feb. 19 article that the judges were unimpressed with Weir, whose performance was not as technically dazzling; Weir, for his part, cited a popular performer with a big gay following. "As Lady Gaga would say, 'I have all my role models out there,' " Weir told the press.
Weir has been unapologetic about his public presentation, which, on and off the ice, has been seen as flamboyant--and forthrightly gay. But Weir has seemed to play with perceptions about sexuality, refusing to state his orientation and talking about his sport--which has a reputation for being "gay"--in terms that avoid labeling. "I know that for the men's population of the Unites States, figure skating is a 'gay' sport, and that's a misconception," Weir told Advocate.com in a Feb. 9 article. "There are so many straight athletes in figure skating. I think it's the music and the costumes that turn most men off. Because they want to see, well, they want to see spandexed men hitting each other's ass and throwing a ball. It's very different."
But in Weir's case, argues Outsports.com's Cyd Zeigler in a Feb. 17 article, his public persona is not simply a holdover of the sport's theatricality: "Over the last four years, Weir has been the gayest thing in sports," Zeigler wrote. "He walked in the Heatherette show and appeared in Black Book in high heels. In his documentary, 'Pop Star On Ice,' he's in a bubble bath with his best friend, Paris and he lies on the couch with a Hello Kitty doll. When ESPN asked him for an interview, he took the reporter for a mani-pedi. When I interviewed Weir last summer and asked him how many sequins are too many, he answered: 'What kind of question is that? There are never too many.' "
For Australian commentators Molloy and McGuire, however, the costumes were a subject of mockery--leading to viewer complaints and the establishing of Facebook page "Eddie McGuire is ruining the 2010 Winter Olympics coverage," reported U.K. newspaper The Sun on Feb. 19.
Commenting on the costumes worn by the skaters, Molloy remarked, "They don't leave anything in the locker room these blokes, do they?"
"They don't leave anything in the closet either, do they?" rejoined McGuire, who went on to suggest that the presence of a heterosexual skater in the competition was a rarity. Apologizing later, Molloy added a barb: "I suggested that there was a disaster happening at the ice skating rink because organizers had found out one of the male ice dancers wasn't gay. And I apologize for that really sincerely. But it definitely wasn't this guy." Molloy was referring to Weir, who was clad in dramatic attire and carrying a prop in the shape of a heart.