I didn’t get to the sports section of the NYT until later in the day yesterday, and am late in blogging this, but I doubt many others beat me to it. I don’t normally spend much time with that section, so it was a joy to see this handsome face dominating the page. (In the NYT, the Daytona 500 goes below the fold.)
It’s Greg Louganis, looking cuter than ever with salt-and-pepper hair and matching goatee. I didn’t know he’d been MIA from American diving since retiring in the late ’80s, and the story was pegged to his low-profile return to coaching “athletes with wide-ranging ages and abilities,” the story notes, adding:
To watch him dissecting a beginner’s front dive tuck during a practice last month was like observing Meryl Streep teaching an introductory acting class.
It goes on to note that he’s spent the past 23 years stabilizing his health (he has AIDS), practicing yoga, exorcising the standard array of personal demons and training dogs for agility trials, of all things. It almost sounded like he was hiding from the world, but then I thought back on what the world was like when he was a magazine-cover face, and thought, can’t blame him.
We’ve come a long, long way since 1988, when gay celebrities like Louganis were in an impossible position — unable to come out, but entirely unwilling to hide. I believe it was Jeff Borden who came back from the Los Angeles TV writers’ tour in 1984 and reported he’d heard from a Sports Illustrated writer that Carl Lewis was going to win every track-and-field event he entered, and then, at the height of his popularity, at his Mark Spitz Wheaties-box peak, come out of the closet. He was going to force America to admit that someone they loved was something they hated, and make them realize their position was unsupportable.
The Olympics came and went, and no Carl Lewis coming out. At the games, he came across as cocky and arrogant, making his value as an celebrity endorser less than golden. I guess he went for the money, because to this day, you can still find stories like this, from 2007:
One of the unspoken subtexts of all this, the shortfall in the public’s affection, the aloofness, the Michael Jackson comparison, even the red stilettos, was the question of Lewis’s sexuality. Some fellow athletes spread the story that Lewis was gay. He denied the rumour, but, whether by coincidence or not, Coca-Cola withdrew an advertising deal and Nike stopped using him in the States after the LA Olympics. One Nike executive was quoted as saying: ‘If you’re a male athlete, I think the American public wants you to look macho.’ The high jumper Dwight Stone perhaps hit the mark when he said: ‘It doesn’t matter what Carl Lewis’s sexuality is, Madison Avenue perceives him as homosexual.’ Lewis himself later said: ‘They started looking for ways to get rid of me. Everyone was so scared and cynical, they didn’t know what to do.’
Oh, well. The crisis for Louganis came when he admitted his HIV status some years after after the Games, and the media seized on the moment in 1988 when he’d hit his head on the diving board during competition, and allowed a doctor to treat the bloody wound without gloves. No matter that the country’s leading AIDS expert said the chances of a successful transmission under those circumstances were steep indeed. No matter he personally apologized. No matter the doctor tested negative. Every columnist needing to feed the beast weighed in — this number very well may have included me — and many of them disapproved. To them, Louganis’ Carl Lewis moment should have come on worldwide television, poolside, when the team doctor was bearing down on him to treat his bleeding head. Louganis proved not that strong. No harm, no foul, but lots of finger-shaking along the way. There was even a contingent who fretted about the other divers who entered the pool after Louganis; what about them, Mr. Olympics? Did you think about them in your selfish need to keep your condition private?
By the mid’90s (when Louganis revealed his HIV status), the first drugs that would make AIDS a chronic, rather than swiftly fatal disease were coming into wider use. But in the 1980s, the atmosphere was quite different. We knew by 1988 how one was infected with HIV, that you had to work pretty hard to get it, but it had served to make spilled blood into a metaphor for menace, not just for the person it was spilling from, but everyone who might come in contact with it. Hospital dramas on TV all featured a plot line where some nice nurse was accidentally stuck by a junkie’s needle. An ACT-UP demonstration was rousted by cops wearing thick yellow rubber gloves. Think back on all the people who used to work with bare hands and don’t anymore, from boxing referees to the ladies at the Red Cross. Christians speak of being washed in the blood of the Lamb, i.e., Jesus. Good thing this single guy who hung out with 12 other guys lived before retroviruses, or otherwise, ick.
I pity anyone with HIV who had to live through that era, but I’m very glad Louganis came out the other side with a satisfying life. I’m not a bit surprised he preferred to work with dogs. They don’t talk, and know the proper use for most newspapers.
Another fun thing I read in the same section yesterday: The Washington Nationals held open auditions for their mascots — giant presidents — last week:
For those who survived the physical test, auditions also consisted of an individual interview with members of the entertainment staff — which included questions like “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?” and answers like “pass gas in church.” Some candidates were ready to be spontaneous.
“I think my whole life has been leading up to this,” said Eileen, a 31-year-old schoolteacher from Alexandria, Va. “I walked around my college campus as a crash test dummy telling people not to drink and drive; I’ve been the Chick-fil-A cow and my school’s panther mascot. As the cow, I got my tail pulled a lot but knew exactly how to deal with it. I’m so ready for this.”
Fun fact: The Thomas Jefferson mascot is known as T.J.
I should read sports more often.
So, anything else going on? Pot calls kettle black, downs oxycontin milk shake. Indiana restaurant shows rare sense of humor, immediately apologizes. You can tell Foxy Brown was drunk in this photo, because only drunk chicks (and drag queens) think celery-green eye shadow is a good idea. Still, she kinda rocks it, don’t you think?
No, nothing else going on. Have a great Tuesday.