Commentary

Ice cracks beneath Weir's critics

Is an Olympic figure skater any less of a man? Of course not

Updated: February 25, 2010, 6:29 PM ET
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

Evan Lysacek had barely gotten the gold medal for men's figure skating around his neck before my inbox was filled by readers asking me if I thought Johnny Weir didn't win a medal because he's gay.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Weir
Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty ImagesJohnny Weir said he was happy even though he finished sixth. "I tried to do everything in my power, and the audience reaction was my gold medal."

A week later, that drum is still being beaten.

Now, despite what one might think, men's figure skating is not full of gay men, according to Rudy Galindo, who came out in 1995 and won the U.S. championship the following year. But we all know perception is reality, which is probably why Lysacek's relationship with Nastia Liukin -- they've reportedly been dating since last summer -- was met with skepticism by some in the blogosphere. And perception contributed to two-time Olympic silver medalist-turned-commentator Elvis Stojko saying he didn't want "to be considered a beautiful skater. I want to be a strong skater."

It reminds me of the way the WNBA seemed to overemphasize the pregnancy and marriage of Sheryl Swoopes when the league was launched in 1996, as if to deflect the notion that it was full of lesbians (add your own "oh, how ironic" joke here). Adding to Skategate 2010 were comments made by Australian and Canadian commentators during the competition, including one sportscaster who suggested Weir should get a gender test.

Without seeing the entire competition, I don't really know if Weir was a victim of homophobia. The skater himself admitted he "did a lot of leave-outs," which lowered the difficulty of his routine. So though his technical score of 79.67 was 6.19 points higher than that of bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi, it's hard to pinpoint the exact reasons that Weir didn't medal.

But beyond the question of medals, I found myself wondering: Why do so many people assume Weir is gay in the first place? As far as I know he's never said he was, and unless TMZ scored a Kim Kardashian-like sex tape (in which case I say "God help us all"), I don't see how anyone who doesn't personally know Weir could come to this conclusion without leaning heavily upon stereotypes. He's been asked; he's just never answered.

"I don't think it should matter," he said Wednesday.

That's good enough for me.

Now sure, there are some truths to stereotypes, and yes, in many ways Weir fits the image we've been spoon-fed for decades. But if those of us who happen to reside a little left of Focus on the Family with regard to gay issues are comfortable labeling Weir as gay simply because "he acts gay," then, well, there's not much to be upset about when someone right of Focus on the Family does the same thing.

After all, "gay" simply means you're attracted to the same gender. It doesn't mean you're graceful on skates. If it did, the NHL should consider some rebranding.

Being gay can't mean you're overly dramatic, because Brett Favre is the biggest drama queen in all of sports, and besides, after nearly 20 years in the NFL, he's probably slapped more man booty than all the gay men in San Francisco combined. Do we question his sexuality?

Am playing devil's advocate? Of course I am. But it's not just for the sake of being a contrarian. I'm suggesting a slight paradigm shift with regard to our views of what it means to be masculine. Society adopts terms like "metrosexual" so men can clip their nose hairs in peace. Talking heads coin phrases like "bromance" so men can have real friendships. There's so much posturing and projection happening on a daily basis that sometimes I wonder if straight men suffer from the effects of homophobia more than gay men do.

[+] EnlargeBrett Favre
AP Photo/Paul SancyaAs hard as it is to believe, not every person is enamored with Brett Favre's version of masculinity, either.

Look, I know a lot of guys who love women in the Eros sense of the word but who don't follow sports and couldn't pick Kobe Bryant out of a lineup of dwarfs.

Conversely, I have a friend who once had to be physically restrained from beating the snot out of a ref during a league basketball game, and he's been with his boyfriend for more than 10 years.

These are not examples of anomalies. These are examples within the kaleidoscope of life, and if some of us would take off our black-and-white blinders long enough -- and perhaps stop acting the way we think we're supposed to act -- we might actually begin to see and appreciate the diversity within the lexicon of manhood. This philosophy isn't just about creating an environment in which it's comfortable for gay men to compete in sports. It's also about creating a space in which it's OK for straight men not to.

According to Nielsen, 106.5 million viewers watched this year's Super Bowl, the most-watched program in U.S. TV history. But there are more than 300 million people in this country, so that means a whole lot of folks opted to do something else. And I daresay some of those folks are straight men. I don't get it -- I love sports -- but then again, I don't have to. That's the beauty of living in a free country: We can be ourselves. I don't know a lot about Weir, but I do know he's man enough to do that.

So with regard to the Olympics, I don't think the question we should be asking is whether or not Weir being gay hurt his medal chances. That's too surface for my taste. No, the real question is why so many dudes ignore, and are even threatened by, the possibility that Weir could be straight. Now that's a conversation only real men can have.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at lzgranderson@yahoo.com.

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Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine