NBC Snubs More Than Mitcham’s Sexuality 

By Eric Shaw Quinn

Originally published on Advocate.com August 28 2008 12:00 AM ET

It’s not
just that NBC didn’t mention gold medalist Matthew
Mitcham’s sexual orientation; it’s that
they didn’t mention him at all.

The
network's obvious, unmistakable and inexcusable snub of
gay medalist Mitcham during its exhaustive coverage of
the Beijing Olympics offers us insight into how black
athlete Jesse Owens must have felt at the Nazi
sponsored games in 1936. I’m not a sport enthusiast,
but I was there in front of the set to watch the
Australian 20-year-old compete for a place on the
podium behind the unstoppable Chinese men’s platform
divers. Then a miracle happened. The top Chinese diver
turned in a mediocre dive and Mitcham performed the
best and highest-scoring dive of the entire
competition to win the gold. Alone in my own living room, I
stood up and cheered.

NBC quickly left
the water cube, never to return. And I waited. The
network never showed the medal ceremony, where Matthew
kissed his boyfriend, Lachlan. Its
commentators never mentioned that that the brave
young man had come out only a couple of months earlier and
raised the money to bring his boyfriend along to the
games. They never mentioned that Matthew was gay. They
never showed Lachlan in the stands supporting him. In
fact, other than to acknowledge that there had been
men’s platform diving at the games, they never
mentioned him again.  

 Matthew Mitcham x395 weepy (Getty) | Advocate.com

Amazingly, in
response NBC says only that its
commentators “don’t discuss an
athlete’s sexual orientation.” To be fair,
when they reported that Australian pole-vaulting gold
medalist Steve Hooker’s wife was a fellow
athlete they didn’t mention Hooker’s sexual
orientation. But they didn’t have to. So why
not just show Lachlan in the stands supporting Matthew
and say that he’s Matt’s partner? They
wouldn’t have had to mention his sexual
orientation. We could have figure it out. Instead,
they ignored Lachlan and repeatedly showed cheering,
face-painted Australians in gold and green wigs
routing for Matthew in the few of his amazing dives
they actually aired.

But it
wasn’t just Matthew’s sexual orientation NBC
didn’t report on. In the few brief hours of
coverage that remained as the games concluded, I saw
constant replays of all the medal victories of the
games’ most outstanding athletes. Certainly,
the American athletes were acknowledged in
NBC’s coverage, particularly those whose performances
were exceptional, and I wanted to see that.

Dara Torres, the
women who took silver at 41. Jason Lezak, the young man
who swam beyond his abilities to win gold in the men 400
relay. The underdog men’s gymnastics team who
rose above all expectations to medal. And then, of
course, there is the amazing Michael Phelps.

In the spirit of
the games, NBC did not limit its focus to Americans.
There were endless replays of the astounding Usain Bolt
running away with the field and features on the entire
Jamaican team. Kenya’s Sammy Wanjiru’s
two-hour, six-minute marathon win was covered in its
entirety. NBC even featured special coverage of a
young woman from South Africa who swam in the
open-water competition though she had only one leg.  

 Matthew Mitcham x395 diving (Getty) | Advocate.com

During the
closing ceremonies special tribute videos aired for these
and many other athletes, but nothing for the young gay
man from Australian who had pulled off a miracle to
win a gold medal -- and did it with grace, style, and
humility under tremendous pressure. While his win as an
openly gay man was history to at least 10% of
NBC’s viewers, Matthew was also the only diver
to beat the Chinese to the Gold in Beijing. His was
the highest-scoring dive in the competition, and he did it
at the last moment with a near-perfect score on one of
the most difficult dives ever attempted at the
Olympics. Somehow, none of his outstanding athletic
performance warranted NBC’s further coverage of
Matthew.

NBC didn’t
just forget to say that Matthew was gay. NBC systematically
erased him from all coverage, shoved him back in their
closet, and pretended that he didn’t exist.
That’s where I see the true media bigotry.

It is a sad
reminder that even now, with all the progress that
we’ve made, such overt bias still informs the
editorial choices of the mainstream media in this
country. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised in
this atmosphere of subtle prejudice where a black candidate
for president, example to millions, a man who has
personally benefited more from the civil rights
movement than any other in the history of our country,
is himself opposed to equal rights for gay Americans.

I just thought
the Olympics were supposed to be about more -- a time to
put aside our differences, great and petty, to rise to the
occasion and shelve nationalism and bigotry of all
forms.

Matthew and nine
other openly gay athletes were there, so I suppose
that’s true of the Olympic Games, just not their
American TV coverage.

Shame on you,
NBC. 

For our cover story on Matthew Mitcham:A
Backward Three–Somersault Tuck (With a Twist)
See the video:NBC
Skirts Topic of Matthew Mitcham’s Sexuality