Capitol Beat

Louganis Gets Wheaties, But Gay Rugby Players Take The Cake

Linda Pentz
Written by Linda Pentz

And so, at last, U.S. Olympic diver, Greg Louganis, will be on the Wheaties box.  That’s gay, out, HIV positive diver, Greg Louganis, the Greg Louganis who won his first Olympic gold medal 32 years ago.

It’s taken a very long time, just as the U.S. has taken — and is still taking — a very long time to reach universal acceptance of its LGBT citizens.  LGBT activists have had to contest almost 200 discriminatory bills already in 2016, across close to 36 states.

The sporting world has been slow to move, at least when it comes to out male players.  Where are they?  There are allies, like former NBA player, Charles Barkley, who is urging the NBA to pull its All-Star Game from North Carolina after that state passed its draconian anti-LGBT law last month.

And there’s out former NFL player, Michael Sam, who is vocally opposing plans by  Missouri, where he played college football, to pass a similar law.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise that it is the most ultimately macho sport of rugby that is blazing the trail of gay acceptance.  Former Welsh captain, Gareth Williams, is out.  So is British pro rugby player, Keegan Hirst.

During last October’s Rugby World Cup in Wales, players packed a screening of Scrum, the story of competitors in the Bingham Cup, the international gay rugby world cup.  The film was shown during Cardiff’s LGBT film festival, an event endorsed by the Welsh Rugby Union.  The 2016 Bingham Cup will be held in Nashville, TN next month.

Rugby’s most high profile LGBT champion is consummate activist athlete, David Pocock ,who plays for Australia.  Pocock, who is straight and is also passionate about climate change and saving the white rhino, has worn rainbow laces on the field, taken other players and fans to task for gay slurs, and campaigns for same-sex marriage in his home country, where it is not yet the law.

Rugby was very much in evidence at a packed April 7 Team DC open house in Washington, DC where up to 30 LGBT sports clubs were showcased.  In fact, gay rugby teams are impressively abundant for a sport that is less than mainstream in the U.S.

“We have several hundred teams in the U.S. now and there are 70 clubs across the world,” said Ned Kieloch, president of the Washington Renegades, the first men’s rugby club in the U.S. to actively recruit gay men but which includes straight players as well.

“I’ve never felt more accepted,” said Renegades player, Haroon Chang, who joined, he said, “because I could fit in more easily and not be stereotyped by the macho attitude.”

That macho attitude has made it harder for male athletes to be out than women, but the reasoning is the same — stereotyping.  Women jocks are expected to be “butch,” but male athletes must be, at least in team sports.

“In swimming and diving it’s not thought of as so shocking to be gay,” said Kris Pritchard, president of International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics who was at the DC open house representing his home club, the Washington Wetskins.   “Louganis probably felt more comfortable in his community but football players don’t feel that,” he said.

Brent Minor, executive director of Team DC, said putting Louganis on the Wheaties box was a huge all-American honor.  But he added, only half joking, “most people I know thought he had already been on a box of Wheaties.  They can’t believe he wasn’t on before!”