In previous Olympic Games, whenever sportscasters mention a gay athlete, they’d often omit any mention of their sexual orientation or significant others: They did it with Brit diver Tom Daley in 2016, they did it with Australian diver Matthew Mitcham in 2008 and even now, broadcasters have been silent about LGBTQ issues surrounding the games. So it’s kind of a big fucking deal that NBC showed openly gay freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy kiss his boyfriend, actor Matt Wilkas, on live TV just before Kenworthy’s Olympic run. NBC also called Wilkas his boyfriend — progress.
As you may know, Kenworthy placed last in his event this year. Kenworthy had a broken thumb and a painful hematoma (bruise) on his hip that made it difficult for him to walk. He quit the final portion of his third run after discovering that he couldn’t possibly win a medal and removed his helmet and shrugged afterwards, later saying, “It’s all good.”
“It’s something I was too scared to do for myself,” Kenworthy said after his run. “To be able to do that, to give him a kiss, to have that affection broadcast to the world, is incredible.”
He continued, “The only way to really change perceptions, to break down barriers, break down homophobia, is through representation. That’s definitely not something I had as a kid. I never saw a gay athlete kissing their boyfriend at the Olympics. I think if I had, it would’ve made it easier for me.”
“It’s unusual, right?” said Wilkas. “It’s good that it’s televised because it normalizes it more. I would imagine it would be a huge moment for a young gay kid to see an awesome athlete so open and proud of himself and not caring what anyone thinks of his sexuality.”
The Gus Kenworthy kiss, followed by acknowledgement of his gayness are steps in the right direction. But the real test will be whether NBC ever acknowledges gay athletes or gay political issues surrounding future Games.