Thursday, February 13, 2014

Johnny Weir's Fabulous Olympics

Since I wrote my Olympics-fever post, I've been thinking about Tablet magazine's very righteous or, even, self-righteous declaration that in order to protest Russia's persecution of gays, they are boycotting the Olympics, and, in fact we should ALL boycott the Olympics: "By turning off our TVs, we’ll be sending an unmistakable message that we wish to have no part in the Kremlin’s glories."

Now, Tablet, "a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture," is not exactly Sports Illustrated. I wouldn't have expected them to cover the Olympics, nor would I go there to look for my Olympics coverage. So it's rather easy for them to refuse to cover an event that they didn't really have to cover, anyway. But, still, is their response the correct one? The New York Times, a consistent defender of gay rights, is covering the games in full tilt (I subscribe to their daily email Olympics as not. to. miss. a. thing.) Am I effectively high-fiving Putin by following these games? 

Consider the athletes. Think about the three American men who swept the slopestyle skiing in the event's first-ever appearance at the Olympics. Think about the women ski jumpers who after years of petitioning a sexist Olympic committee, were finally given their due, and a berth at the Olympics. Think about Matthew Mortensen, a luger from Long Island, who narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympics in 2010. Here's what he said on WNYC about making it this year: "I've been literally working towards a single goal for sixteen years. And to get that goal is such an incredible feeling." 

To boycott the Olympics because of Russia's unquestionably detestable human rights abuses is to punish these and other amazing athletes who have dedicated their lives to their pursuits. So we ignore them, and their accomplishments, to punish Russia? Somehow, I think Russia doesn't care. But I know the athletes do. 

Since I've been watching, and not boycotting, I've had the pleasure of witnessing what may be an even more effective form of protest. Johnny Weir, the former figure skater, has been rocking it as an NBC commentator for these games. Each time he appears on screen, he looks more fabulous. He has impeccable make-up, gigantic jewelry, and a beautiful television presence. He is the gay man that the Russians are so afraid of, and he is appearing in Sochi full-on "out." No rainbows, sure. No need. The rainbows are radiating from his jewels. 

Why would Johnny Weir even agree to go to Russia, knowing what we all do? One would assume he wanted to be on TV, and he's good at it. But maybe he also went because he wanted to boost up those athletes, gay and straight, who have worked so hard to be there, and weren't about to give up their dreams. Maybe he wanted to tell the world, and Russia, that gay people are an integral part of sports, just like they are integral part of all of our communities. Maybe he just wanted to say, "Hey, look! I'm not scared of you." 

Well, thank you, Johnny. You're teaching us as much about pride as you are about triple axel salchows. Tablet, you don't know what you're missing.

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