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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.
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.
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.