From the Gay Games: Olympian Greg Louganis & Outsports' Cyd Zeigler take your questions on gays, sports and coming out (08 12 14)

Aug 12, 2014

Columnist Steven Petrow took questions about LGBT and straight etiquette.

It's a pleasure to welcome my guests Greg Louganis and Cyd Zeigler to day's live chat here at the Post (please see their bio information to the right of this column). Both Cyd and Greg have been in Cleveland this week, notably for the opening of Gay Games 9, which will continue to run until Saturday.

The opening night celebration featured the Pointer Sisters, Andrea McArdle, Lance Bass, and Greg who said to a huge and enthusiastic crowd: "I want to give a shout-out to Cleveland. Congratulate Cleveland and Akron for putting this together. This is awesome."

President Obama, in a surprise taped video address, welcomed all to the Games, saying: "To the thousands of athletes, coaches, families and spectators from around the world, welcome to Ohio and the United States of America."


By the way, Greg is just logging on so we'll start with Cyd. Welcome!

It's awesome to be here. It's already been a great few days in Cleveland - the city has really rolled out the welcome mat for us!

That video message from the President was great. The Gay Games are about sports, but here in Northeast Ohio there's a big political element to help change hearts and minds in this key state. It's the first Gay Games to have a church or Republican Party sponsor. 

Apologies for our slow start; we're having some tech difficulties on this end. Thanks for your patience.

Cyd, let me start with a question or two for you. And by the way, congratulations on your wedding earlier this summer. You've been the go to person for many, if not most athletes, who come out including Michael Sam. Tell us something about Sam's coming out that we don't already know.

I guess it depends on what you've read, but one of the big assumptions has been that Michael was nervous about coming out. He wasn't. He was so ready. I remember the night before the story broke, he was calming down the rest of us. He had already seen on his team that football is welcoming of gay men. He knew. 

The other thing I'd say about the whole Michael Sam story is that I was so disappointed with the ridiculous over-reaction to the Oprah show. There has been such a double-standard placed on this man because he's gay. The Atlanta Falcons are on Hard Knocks with cameras everywhere - yet a behind-the-scenes documentary about the first gay player in history was somehow the worst thing on earth. Very sad to see.

What's been most memorable in Cleveland?
What was it like for the president to spontaneously appear in the surprise video?

The most memorable thing about Cleveland for me so far has been my Icebucket Challenge I just recorded with the help of some swimmers. Ha. Other than that, it really has been how welcoming the people of Cleveland have been. It's a very big deal for these folks in a "purple" state to have the Gay Games. The city is painted rainbow this week. The power of the Gay Games in that respect has been awesome to see.

Cyd, In a year with so much positive change for LGBT people, especially on the marriage front, how did these Games reflect changing times?

I think sports and politics have gone hand-in-hand with advancements in other areas like entertainment. These Games being in Ohio is a big deal - it really reflects the state of LGBT people in sports that we could come here and be so welcomed. 

Some people ask if the Gay Games are needed anymore. Yes, they are. We still have a long way to go - and it's an incredible opportunity for people who were pushed out of sports years ago in their youth to recapture their power. Plus, they're really fun and the people are awesome - a great place to start for a fun party!

Greg, sorry for our tech difficulties. But welcome. I know you're back in CA. now but what was  most memorable in Cleveland for you?

Just walking out onto the stage to see so much support, the Russian Team especially touched me, have been at the LGBT Russian Open Games, such courageous people! Of course Lance and his hot boyfriend. 

This question is for Cyd - you have conducted and/or handled a number of coming out interviews. to you, what has been the most memorable and/or made the most impact historically?

Michael Sam's journey this year is the most important coming-out ever in sports. Dave Kopay is right up there - he started this whole thing in the 70s. But the way Michael did it, before the draft, answers all questions. To have been able to write the behind-the-scenes story of his coming out was really amazing. You can see that story here: http://www.outsports.com/2014/2/9/5396036/michael-sam-gay-football-player-missouri-nfl-draft

Other than that "obvious" one, I think the story I wrote about Stephen Alexander, the trans high school coach in Rhode Island, was powerful. He's in his hometown in rural New England and is making a huge impact. He is an amazing man. You can see that story here: http://www.outsports.com/2013/11/12/5095154/transgender-coach-stephen-alexander-profile-glocester-rhode-island

Greg - When you look at athletes who are coming out today vs. when you were competing and dealing with the media, other than acceptance, which has obviously grown, what is the biggest difference you see?

Times have changed here in the US, though there are areas in States we could improve, but with more states recognizing marriage equality is something I never thought I would see in my lifetime 

Greg,  How have things changed for gay athletes? What is different, today, compared to how it was when you were actively competing? When you were competing, as I recall, the media rarely talked about gay athletes. Did competitors and coaches have a different attitude than the media? Greg, I really enjoyed watching you compete in the Olympics. Your diving was one of the most memorable parts of the Games in those years..

Thank you! I think it isn't just in sports, but a younger generation who view sexuality more fluid and wanting to not be labeled 

 

Cyd, Some have wondered how long sports figures will continue to come out in such a high profile way. What's your thinking on that?

It depends. A Super Bowl-winning quarterback coming out will be a huge story in 20 years. But by then, a third-string offensive lineman for the New York Giants coming out won't be. This year is THE YEAR OF THE GAY ATHLETE. That's how it will be remembered in sports. It's what we at Outsports.com decided to do last December - write about every single LGBT athlete we can this year. And we have many more coming. Some of those stories won't be a big deal in a decade, some will.

Greg and Cyd, You both been legally married for a short while now (although together for a longer period). What surprises you most about being married. Why did it matter to you?

A friend said "It will feel different" and I was skeptical, but it does feel different, a deeper sense of each other and self

Cyd, What do you think of MLB's recognition of Glenn Burke at the All-Star game? A good start, but only if it's followed by real steps to allow players to be who they are? Or just show/too little too late?

Any time one of the big pro sports leagues does something to recognize LGBT athletes it is a powerful step forward. The acknowledgement of Glenn Burke was awesome, but even more powerfully was the hiring of Billy Bean. Billy is going to do an amazing job guiding the league on these issues. He will be visiting with all 30 teams in the next year, working with rookies and players, and trying to put together outreach to the minor league teams. The recognition of Glenn was powerful - but the hiring of Billy will have been transformative.

Greg or Cyd, I believe you've been to other Gay Games. What struck you as most different about this year's?

I have only been to NYC and Chicago, it was great to see the stadium filled

Cyd, When it comes to people in the later rounds of the NFL, its somewhat of a crapshoot if they will be able to be successful. The problem I envision is that if Sam doesn't make them team, the Rams will be labeled as discriminatory. This will discourage other NFL teams from selecting someone a gay player until the talent is beyond reproach because most teams don't like individual drama. Its not fair but if you were the Rams and felt Sam was not one of the best people, how would you handle the situation.

Michael Sam will or won't make the roster depending on his ability to help the team win. Period. No NFL team is going to keep someone on who doesn't help them win. Les Snead and Jeff Fisher don't keep their jobs if they put Michael Sam on the roster - they keep their jobs ONLY if the Rams can build a winning franchise. These two men did not draft Michael so they could cut him. They want him on the team. And if he earns a spot, he'll get it.

Greg, In so many ways you've become an iconic figure in the LGBT community and beyond. When you think back to 1984 -- the year of the diving incident -- could you ever imagine we'd be where we are today?

Do you mean '88? When I hit my head? 

 

I was competing in a country had they known my HIV status I would not be allowed in. We have come a long way, and still further to go, but grateful for progress and education 

I'm sure the questioner meant 1988.

Cyd, Is there something you've seen LGBT athletes say in interviews or when talking to the media that strikes you as particularly smart? On the flip side, anything athletes say that rubs you the wrong way?

Just about everything John Amaechi says is brilliant. I think he's a really underrated part of this movement. His coming out - and the ensuing anti-gay comments from Tim Hardaway - was a transformative moment for our community. If you don't follow @JohnAmaechi on Twitter, you must. 

What rubs me the wrong way? Any time someone hides behind this "distraction" mantra about LGBT athletes. We are not distractions - that is a relic from a time when we were not in every corner of society. Certainly there is added media attention - but if a player or coach in the pros cannot handle a few extra cameras, they should quit. Not surprisingly, Rams coach Jeff Fisher has said this a couple times. 

Greg, I saw that you posted about the death of Robin Williams this morning. What was your connection to him?

Robin almost got one on my Dane puppies years ago, we have done events together, and he called me before Le Cage and said he put me in the movie! He is reading the news paper and I am the headline! I loved him and was always so sweet to me. 

Cyd, You've said that when you were coming out  that it was drilled into your head -- verbally and physically -- that to be gay in sports meant being weak, powerless, and second-class. How surprised are you by how much the times have changed? What will the landscape look like in, say, 10 years?

The sports world changed years ago. Sadly, only we at Outsports and a few others realized it. For years I have told people in the media that teams - particularly in the pros - are ready for a gay player. They didn't believe me. The athletes advanced far faster than the talking heads in the media. So this doesn't surprise me at all - Sports are about winning and camaraderie and teamwork, not about homophobia.

Cyd, I wish more attention were being paid to the fact that Michael Sam came out to his college football teammates at the beginning of his final season, and the team was able to play successfully all season without the "distractions" that some seem to fear. (Should we give at least a little of the credit to his college coaches, too?)

Michael's coming out at Missouri has been discussed quite a bit, I think. And I'm glad for that. But it's constantly discussed with a "surprised" tone. The team was given a sportsmanship award by the SEC. That's all nice - but why on earth should a team get an award for accepting a gay teammate? The Univ. of Nebraska football team accepted gay kicker Eric Lueshen in 2006. The Bloomsberg University football team accepted Brian Sims in 2000. Michael was just the latest in a long line of gay athletes accepted by their team.

Greg, What are you working on now? I know you always have a lot of irons in the fire!

Trying to get my doc, "Back on Board" louganisdoc.com out there on a large scale. It is hard because we have to deal with the IOC, USOC, USA Diving, NBC, ABC, CBS, to get the rights to my image! I don't own my image in those venues. It totals nearly 300,000$ 

Greg, What was it like for the president to spontaneously appear in the surprise video?

I missed it, I was back stage! 

Cyd, I know you and Dan were recently married. How is married life different - what's it been a month? But more importantly, why did it matter to you to make it legal?

Married life isn't very different since we married on July 4. For us, what's changed are two main things: 1) Dan's father, who to this day refuses to meet me (after 11 years) could never try to keep me from a funeral or property or anything else if something tragic happened to Dan. 2) We have another married same-sex couple in America. Both of these things really drove us to get married. Plus, we're going to be together for the rest of our lives, so we might as well make it legal. :-)

Cyd, Can you give us any hints? What sport?

It's completely unpredictable. The sport that has been most "ready" for an out athlete for the longest - the NHL - is the one league that has never had a current or former athlete come out. It doesn't matter who's "ready" other than the athlete him or herself.

Cyd, Did you see the president's video? What impact did it have on the crowd? And you?

 

 

I actually predicted he'd make an appearance by video before the ceremony. I just had a hunch. He sent Dan and me a letter congratulating us on our marriage last month. There has never been and will never be a more important President for this community (except for when we have an openly gay President). The video was further confirmation of all of this. And, yeah, I even cried watching the Bruce Willis movie Armageddon, so I teared up. :-)

I want to thank both Greg Louganis and Cyd Zeigler for joining me on today's chat and I want to thank you for your patience with our earlier tech difficulties. We'll be back in three weeks for another LIVE chat. See you then.

In This Chat
Steven Petrow
Steven Petrow is a respected journalist and the go-to source for modern manners. Petrow writes the "Civilities" column for The Washington Post as well as "Manners Hero" for Parade and "Medical Manners" for Everyday Health.
Greg Louganis
Four-time Olympic champion Greg Louganis is widely considered the greatest diver in history. In 1984, Greg received the AAU¹s James E. Sullivan Award for outstanding achievements. The following year, he was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. In 1987, he won the Jesse Owens Award. In 1993, he was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. And in 1994, he was presented with the U.S. Olympic Committee¹s Robert J. Kane Award. Currently, Greg is a mentor for the US Olympic diving team, a judge for the Red Bull Cliff Diving Tour, a dog agility expert, and a motivational speaker. He is the subject of a forthcoming feature-length documentary film, Back on Board (2014).
Cyd Zeigler
Cyd Zeigler is co-founder of Outsports.com, the world's leading gay-sports publication. Previously, he was the associate editor of the New York Blade and sports editor for Genre magazine. In 2010 he was inducted as an inaugural member of the National Gay Flag Football Hall of Fame.
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