October 26, 2015 / Comments (0)

Does it Matter that Gus Kenworthy is Gay?

It was big news when freeskiing Olympian Gus Kenworthy became the first World Champion action sport athlete to come out as gay. Or was it?

The story spread quickly, from ESPN Magazine to the Associated Press to Freeskier, to the Twitter feeds of Sage Kotsenburg and Tom Wallisch, even to Miley Cyrus, who informed Gus via Instagram, “You have won FREEDOM.”

Gus Kenworthy is a five-time world champ and an Olympic silver medalist, so he is in a position of power here. His sponsors Nike, Atomic, GoPro and Monster are sticking with him, and they would be fools not to. His coming-out announcement has doubled his pop culture reach, and that has real value. Unlike retired basketball star Jason Collins and football player Michael Sam (who was cut by the Rams), Kenworthy made his announcement at the height of his career. Like it or not, he’s gay. Most people seem just fine with it.

So is this news?

It shouldn’t be, but it is. Only a handful of top pro athletes have had the guts to come out at the height of their powers. Martina Navratilova and Greg Louganis come to mind, and that puts Gus in some solid company.

So does it matter that Gus Kenworthy is gay?

Yes it does, absolutely. Attitudes have come a long way on sexuality in this country, but I still hear the same old derogatory anti-gay insults on the mountain, and especially in the terrain parks: “Dude, that was so gay.” Those would-be insults are going to sound even stupider when they are comparing no-style riders to one of the finest skiers alive. Can we please agree that unless you can shred it like Gus Kenworthy (and you can’t), you can no longer criticize bad moves as “gay?”

I can remember a time not that long ago when inline skating was cool, a crazy new sport that turned cities into mountains, an excellent way to get the legs in shape for winter while making the most of your paved urban environment. Then all of a sudden this sport that a lot of us enjoyed immensely in the 90s was deemed “gay.” Not sure why it got that label, not sure why that label mattered — but it did matter. Big-time. People stopped buying inline skates. Shops shut down. Businesses went under. And the taunting somehow remained acceptable. These days you can hardly find a good pair of inline skates anywhere.

I like to think our culture has evolved. The fact that Gus Kenworthy can come out as gay and bring in way more love than hate is to me a sign of long overdue progress. I look forward to seeing him express himself on the slopes and on the podium, with pride and style, and I am hoping that his success as a gay skier will lead to progress.

Because you have to respect a guy who can throw down a run like this one:

Last modified: October 26, 2015

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