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Why NBC Sports Never Noted Tom Daley Is an Out Athlete

Tom Daley and Dustin Lance Black

LGBT people are celebrating Tom Daley’s Olympic medal win — but a firestorm is brewing about NBC Sports never mentioning that Daley is an out gay man.

The Advocate first reported the disappointment shared by some online as they watched NBC’s broadcast on Monday night, which lasted nearly an hour without an announcer noting that Daley is an Olympic hero to LGBT people. Even as American screenwriter and Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black cheered in the audience, the announcers never identified him as Daley’s fiancé.

Slate published a pointed criticism today, headlined, “How Do You Get NBC to Ignore a Human Interest Story? Have the Humans Be Gay.”

NBC Sports officials don’t think they made an error. A spokesperson told The Advocate, “With more than 11,000 athletes at the Games, it isn’t always possible to identify every competitor’s significant other, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

The spokesperson didn’t comment on why Daley himself wasn’t identified as gay.

For his part, Black — who is a well-known activist in his own right — told The Advocate from Rio de Janeiro that while it might have been “curious” for NBC to pass over Daley’s significance, he hasn’t been able to watch any of the coverage himself. 

“I haven’t watched any of NBC’s coverage, so it’s tough to make an informed comment,” he said. “I’m here to support Tom and his family here in Rio. Period.”

Black won an Academy Award for the 2008 film Milk, about famed LGBT rights activist Harvey Milk. And he was a founding board member for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which took California’s Proposition 8 case all the way the Supreme Court. The leader of that group, Chad Griffin, went on to become the head of the Human Rights Campaign.

Throughout the broadcast, Black could be seen sitting with family in the stands, watching intently as Daley would win the bronze alongside Dan Goodfellow in the synchronized 10-meter platform. For Black, it’s been less nerve-racking than he might have expected.

“This is the moment Tom has been training for since I met him nearly four years ago,” he told The Advocate. “He’s worked so incredibly hard for this moment. So I’ve honestly been less nervous for him here in Rio than I’ve been at any other competition, because I know he’s ready for this. So as I’m watching him compete, well, as we say in Texas, I’m just so proud of him I could burst.”

And Black is sure that other LGBT people will be proud of Daley too.

“When an openly LGBT person achieves,” he said, “it tells young LGBT people that their dreams are not limited by who they are or who they love.”

That’s essentially what activists such as Faith Cheltenham, president of BiNet USA, told The Advocate after Monday’s broadcast.

“Just as it's critical to elevate the stories of refugees, Muslim women, and black women, so too is it important to mention an LGBTQ athlete's identity,” said Cheltenham, refererring to the NBC profiles of Olympic athletes of various backgrounds.

NBC Nightly News perhaps modeled one way of reporting on LGBT athletes, telling the story of USA Rubgy player Jillion Potter and her fight to overcome cancer by also including her wife for comment. Andrew “Fuzz” Purchas, chairman of the International Gay Rugby league, praised NBC for how it handled that story. 

“Hopefully the press's representation of Jillion Potter’s same-sex marriage as being just a part of her story will help increase the number of same-sex-attracted athletes competing at the highest level,” he said, noting that with just 44 out athletes in Rio, it means many more are still closeted. “NBC including a story about a lesbian athlete is a far cry from its story about Matthew Mitcham in 2008 when his long-term partner, Lachlan, was 'airbrushed' out of all coverage.”

Back then, just 10 Olympians were out LGBT people, and Australian diver Mitcham had pulled off a major upset by winning gold in the 10-meter platform. Activists were outraged that his significance as an out gay athlete was never noted by NBC. 

In this latest case, the writer from Slate, June Thomas, argued that NBC Sports likely wouldn’t have ignored the Daley-Black, Hollywood-related storyline if it had been a straight athlete competing.

“You don’t have to be the kind of person who sees homophobia everywhere to think the commentators were reluctant to bring up a star athlete’s homosexuality,” she wrote, “especially as the camera lingered lovingly on the divers’ insanely ripped physiques, their minuscule swim trunks, and their long skin-to-skin hugs of celebration.” Of course, Thomas left room for NBC Sports to have merely decided it wasn’t interesting enough to spare the time. “I can’t wait to see NBC ignore straight athletes’ family members in the weeks ahead.”

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