Gus Kenworthy was a relatively obscure silver medalist at the 2014 Soshi Winter Olympics who happened to also rescue some puppies while he was there. He had some sponsors, a moderate following, and no one — even those closest to him — knew he was gay.
What a difference a tweet makes.
Kenworthy came out in October 2015 and is now sponsored by Visa, Toyota, United, Procter & Gamble, Ralph Lauren, Chobani, Samsung and many other high-profile companies. His popularity within the circuit and his fandom soared. His performance on the slopes has significantly improved. And he has a new moniker: The Gay Skier.
Kenworthy says he expected to get the nickname and he’s cool with it. In fact, he wears the label proudly. He says it doesn’t have a negative correlation, but the opposite: It’s a label of individual respect. An interesting side effect to his pronouncement was the language other competitors used. Once, when someone performed a weak or badly executed move, the common refrain was, “That’s so gay.” Since coming out, teammates and competitors have come back with the response, “That’s so lame.”
Kenworthy thinks it’s cool to represent his country in the Olympics but, just as cool, he also represents his community — LGBT.
It may seem like a lot of great things from a silver medal in 2014, coming out in fall of 2015 and now all of the great support. And we’re happy for Gus. We’re happier still with what is likely happening in the world of teens, millennials and others who grew up on X Games and extreme sports. Kenworthy is a star, a model, and a face and spokesperson for LGBT individuals. He makes it cool to be gay and good at the same time.
Truly, Ricky Rogers, Greg Louganis, Johnny Weir and many others came out before Kenworthy, and 28-year-old figure skater Adam Rippon was selected for the United States in the Winter Olympics a week before him, making Kenworthy second, but his sport moves in new directions.
Every time an athlete knocks down a closet door, some young person — who thinks they can’t do something because they are gay, that they can’t be out because their sporting activities are “masculine” or because they just don’t have anyone to look up to for support — has the chance to be honest with others around him.
Gay and want to be an actor? Check. Gay and want to be a politician? Check. Want to serve in the military? Check. Want to be an artist, a designer, an engineer, a pilot, a teacher, a musician, a fireman, a police officer, a doctor, a lawyer or a minister? Check all of the above.
Finally, we are reaching into that last scary area of overboard testosterone that has defied us. Gay and want to be an athlete? Check. There always have been gay athletes, but in the past several years, they have become vocal enough, strong enough and proud enough to be open to their teammates and fans. Because even if there is a Michael Sam or a Wade Davis for football, a Jason Collins for basketball, a Ricky Rogers for soccer and so on, there are just too few out and open gay men to crack the ol’ boys’ club wide open.
Kenworthy is an extreme sport skier and arguably the most high-profile competition in the world and he’s open about being gay. His buddies and fans respect him even more than before. And from Soshi will come another amazing performance from the United States’ gay skier, rainbow flag and all.
And that’s gold.
- The Philadelphia Falcons soccer club is sending two teams to the Gay Games in Paris this August—an 11v11 mens, and a 7v7 womens and are actively looking for more sponsors. The Falcons winter league is starting in February and registration is open. Visit Falcons-soccer.org for more info.
- Philadelphia Liberty Tennis Association is ready to accept your new or renewal memberships. Stop by this month’s social 6-8 p.m. Jan. 26 at Stranglelove’s or go search PLTA on Facebook for more information about the league.
- Through Feb. 9, Stonewall Philly T-Shirts sporting saying “Sports Are So Gay” will be available to order online for $15 at stonewallsports.org. All proceeds will be shared by Stonewall and local LGBTQIA charities.
Scott Drake has been on the PGN staff since February 2008, starting as a graphic and layout designer. He is now the newspaper’s photographer and art director, in charge of the publication's overall appearance. Scott has won more than 20 photography awards in the past eight years, including an NLGJA Outstanding Achievement in Photojournalism Award, and more than a dozen others for graphics and writing. He is the recipient of two Sigma Delta Chi Awards.
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