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Thursday, 28 August 2008

Johnson & Johnson 1, NBC 0

In our Gay Pride! blog entry on Monday, we praised Johnson & Johnson for awarding Matthew Mitcham a grant through its Athlete Family Support Program so that his partner, Lachlan Fletcher, could be in China to support him while he took part in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

In their coverage of the 10m diving event, the US television network NBC has been taken to task for not once mentioning that Mitcham was openly gay or that his partner was there to support him. Furthermore, during the awards ceremony, when the pair shared a kiss in front of millions of television viewers, NBC did not show it. raised the issue with Greg Hughes, a spokesperson for NBC Sports, which has subsequently been picked up by

When asked why at no point during the coverage did NBC mention Mitcham was gay or that his partner was in the stands, Hughes [told AfterElton], “In virtually every case, we don’t discuss an athlete’s sexual orientation.”

When it was pointed out that in fact the network does exactly that by telling viewers about Olympic athletes’ various spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, and even in one case a heterosexual “love triangle” Hughes responded, “Not in every case. Not every athlete has a personal discussion. I could show you 500 athletes we didn’t show. We don’t show everyone. We don’t show every ceremony.” …

“It’s not possible to cover the entire personal story of every athlete regarding their performance. … It’s just not possible to single out coverage.”

NBC’s lame excuses are pathetic and don’t stand up to even the closest scrutiny (see here, where takes apart each of them). Hughes’s claim that “[n]ot every athlete has a personal discussion” is true of course, but earlier NBC had seen fit to make reference to “personal issues” – Mitcham’s suffering from depression, which had led to his earlier retirement from diving – but had failed even then to add that Fletcher had supported him throughout that period in his life, helping him back into the sport and on to these Olympic Games!

There’s no doubt that Mitcham’s story is unique: the only openly gay man taking part in the 2008 Olympics, the only openly gay male Olympic champion, Mitcham is also the first man to go to any Olympics having come out as a gay man prior to the event!

Given all this, NBC’s last claim, that it’s “not possible to cover the entire personal story of every athlete regarding their performance”, is particularly laughable, especially considering that they did choose to cover plenty of smaller stories – such as a volleyball player who lost her wedding ring, a love triangle involving French and Italian swimmers, countless shots of wives, husbands, girlfriends and boyfriends cheering their straight partners and, wait for it … plenty of shots of weeping, smiling, joyous athletes greeting and kissing their loved ones after receiving their medals!

The piece concludes by saying that they’re “not yet ready to accuse NBC of homophobia”, but NBC has been homophobic. Not just because of its actions on the day but because, unlike Mitcham who had the courage to be out and proud, NBC haven’t had the courage to admit they were wrong.

You can read all our coverage of Matthew Mitcham here.

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