It’s Not Right to Put Johnny on the Spot
Regardless of where you stand on figure skating’s legitimacy as a sport, perhaps we can agree on this: It’s enough of a sport that a competitor should not be asked about his choice of sexual partners right after messing up the biggest night of his career.
Stunningly, after Johnny Weir had left a periodic table’s worth of elements out of his long program Thursday night and dropped from medal contention, he was asked about a Chicago Tribune online poll on whether people cared about his sexual orientation.
The poll sprang from a story in Thursday’s Tribune in which Rudy Galindo, an openly gay former U.S. figure skating champion, called on the media to call out Weir.
Just goes to show how bad ideas spawn more bad ideas. At least the Tribune’s readers showed better sense than its editors. As of 5 p.m. Central time, 93% of the 4,571 poll respondents said they did not care.
“I think it’s funny that people care,” Weir said. “I don’t have a problem [with] people saying anything. People could be saying, ‘Let’s poll about Bode Miller, let’s poll Michelle Kwan being a lesbian [or not].’ Something like that. And it’s not a big deal. Who I sleep with doesn’t affect what I’m doing on the ice or what I’m doing in a press conference.”
I couldn’t understand what he was doing talking about it in this press conference. Could you imagine the losing quarterback of the Super Bowl being asked whether he liked men? That’s how ridiculous this sounded.
Sure, Weir has provided plenty of dots for people to connect. When asked about his love life, Weir refers only to a gender-neutral “someone” he has dated for two years. He compares himself to Carrie and Miranda on “Sex and the City,” he talks about his hatred of “skin issues, hair issues or clothing issues,” he has described himself as “princessy,” and did you see that swan outfit he wore in the short program Wednesday?
Go ahead, speculate all you want. He certainly hasn’t said or done anything to quash it, and his quote implies you have his permission.
But an athlete should not have to address his private life unless he brings it to the table himself, the way Alberto Tomba did by boasting about his prowess or the way Eugene Robinson did by getting arrested on a charge of soliciting a prostitute on the eve of the Super Bowl.
Snowboarder Shaun White provided some humor at these Games after he was asked how his gold medal would help his chances with Sasha Cohen, but that was only after he had independently started raving about Cohen to a reporter earlier in the week.
Maybe Weir, 21, doesn’t want to be anybody’s hero or spokesman. Here’s a novel idea: Maybe he would rather focus on the Olympics. He had enough trouble just getting to the rink Thursday.
He said the bus that normally ran from the Olympic village every 10 minutes was running on the hour. After several futile discussions with the non-English-speaking volunteers he was able to get a ride to the Palavela arena, arriving 30 minutes later than he planned.
“Transportation problems, that’s just an excuse,” Weir said. “I just skated bad.”
It was the opposite of his performance Tuesday, when his scores pushed him into second place behind Evgeni Plushenko.
Plushenko made sure everyone would stay behind him with a killer long program. It’s appropriate that he skated to the theme from “The Godfather,” because this thing was as one-sided as the tollbooth scene.
The silver medal, however, was up for grabs. And when Weir’s closest challenger, Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland, fell once in his routine, Weir looked home free. All he had to do was stay upright.
He stuck a triple axel-triple toe loop at the beginning. And then it unraveled. He didn’t perform his routine, substituting a double axel for a quadruple toe loop and failing to even attempt his next two scheduled combination jumps.
“I didn’t feel it unraveling,” he said. “I felt like once I got to the circular footwork, my legs started to get tight a little bit and a little bit too stiff. There’s nothing I could have done.”
His disappointing scores left him in fifth place. Here’s a case where a sports term definitely applies to figure skating: He choked.
I consider figure skating as an athletic performance. The competitors are well-conditioned and do things you and I can’t. But if you went to see Savion Glover tap-dance, you’d say the same thing.
Boxing matches are handled by judges as well. But boxers always have the option of knocking the opponent out.
Another challenge to figure skating’s acceptance in the predominantly male sports world is the costume situation.
One guy Thursday night wore what appeared to be a purple version of the “Shazam” costume. Frederic Dambier of France skated to “Romeo and Juliet” while wearing a black-and-lavender outfit that physically and metaphorically split the large pink heart sewn on the middle of the chest, a representation of the outside forces that tore apart the two star-crossed lovers.
Sometimes I think figure skating should do red-carpet arrivals, have Joan Rivers ask the skaters who they’re wearing tonight.
But asking someone’s sexual orientation? Is nothing off-limits anymore? That just shows how the Internet chat-room mentality has spread all the way to the Olympic mixed zones.
Figure skating would be the natural place for a gay male athlete to come out. There’s a built-in assumption anyway, and there aren’t any ignorant teammates’ reactions to worry about. That doesn’t mean anyone should have to sign up for it.
Weir was classy and honest throughout his trip through the mixed zone Thursday.
None of the questions were easy. But one wasn’t necessary.