Saturday, February 27, 2010

He's Here, He's Weir...

During these Olympics, there's been a lot of talk about Johnny Weir. And some of it isn't even coming from him.

Earlier this week, Weir held a press conference in Vancouver, to respond to controversy that had arisen after Canadian sportscasters and other international broadcasters made negative comments about him during the men's figure skating competition.

Two Quebec sportscasters, Claude Mailhot and Alain Goldberg, laughed that Weir "should skate in the women's competition" and also suggested he should undergo gender testing, like South African runner Caster Semenya. Goldberg and Mailhot also hypothesized that Weir lost points because of his flamboyance.

Said Goldberg: "They'll think all the boys who skate will end up like him. It sets a bad example."

Additionally, Australian newscaster Eddie McGuire suggested that Weir "didn't leave anything in the closet" when he skated.

Weir generally lets these remarks roll off his back—and, in fact, certainly encourages controversy wherever he goes. However, he said he called the press conference because:

"It wasn't these two men criticizing my skating, it was them criticizing me as a person, and that was something that really, frankly, pissed me off...I hope more kids can grow up the same way I did and more kids can feel the freedom that I feel to be themselves and to express themselves and that's the most important thing."

If Weir truly did lose points for his flamboyance, it is yet another strike against the subjective judging of this sport. And how ironic is it that someone like Weir could be judged as "too flamboyant" when openly gay Rudy Galindo once held the US Men's Title? Is figure skating, like many sports, sending the message that to succeed you must remain closeted? Is this the next frontier where "don't ask, don't tell" needs to be eliminated?

Oh, wait, it still exists in the military. My bad.

Like him or hate him, Johnny Weir is an individual in a sport struggling between forced homogeneity and occasional creativity.

No one should ever have to apologize for being who they are, for living their life the way they want, with no regrets. Other sports—heck, everyday society—should encourage people to follow Weir's lead. (Perhaps with fewer sequins. They're just not practical.)

It is all too easy to slip into gay jokes to prove one's masculinity or ease one's comfort. It is much harder to respect a person's right to be whatever they want to be.

Maybe that's the best lesson Weir can teach us.

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