Gay Gold Medalist Matt Mitcham and His “Friend”

HeatherN is glad NBC was more open in its coverage of out LGBT athletes this Olympics, but thinks they dropped the ball when they called Diver Matt Mitcham’s partner of 6 years his “friend”.

In Beijing in 2008, Australian diver, Matthew Mitcham was the only out gay man competing. (There were eleven gay and bisexual women who competed). When Mitcham won the gold medal in the men’s 10m diving, a huge upset for the Chinese who had won every other medal in diving at Beijing, NBC had a little blurb about Mitcham’s life. This, itself, isn’t really noteworthy, as NBC does this for a lot of athletes that have particularly interesting stories. Only with Mitcham, NBC totally failed to mention the fact that he was gay. Not only did NBC never talk about it, they didn’t even show the footage of Mitcham jumping into the stands to hug and kiss his partner, Lachlan Fletcher.

Okay, though, that was then and this is now. In London in 2012 there are twenty out gay and bisexual women, and three out gay men, one of whom is the diver, Matthew Mitcham. On the one hand, it’s still a disproportionately small number, but on the other hand, it’s more than twice the number at Beijing. So hey, it’s progress (yay). Also, whereas last Olympics NBC totally dropped the ball when it came to discussing Mitcham’s sexuality, this year NBC had a nice little retrospective where the diver discussed his sexuality at length (also, yay). He talked about the social stigma of being a gay man, particularly a gay man who is an athlete. He talked about how he hopes that his life can help other gay people who might be struggling with coming out. It’s all quite lovely, except for a couple things.

My first gripe is with the way that Mitcham’s partner, Lachlan Fletcher, wasn’t even mentioned or shown in the retrospective. They finally showed a moment of the clip where Mitcham hugged Fletcher at Beijing after winning gold, which was nice. Otherwise, though, Mitcham could have been single, for all they talked about his relationship. I actually had to Google Mitcham and Fletcher to see whether they were still together. Now maybe Fletcher’s just a bit camera shy, but it seems strange to me that they talk about Mitcham’s sexuality, but they don’t talk about his partner. It seems to reflect the way in which it’s become okay to talk about gay men in the media, so long as they aren’t actually doing anything gay, like discussing a romantic relationship with another man. So, baby steps, I guess.

All of that above is just the lead in, to give context to a really frustrating comment by Ted Robinson on NBC tonight. After the retrospective of Mitcham was over, NBC cut back to the diving cube in London 2012, with Mitcham on the platform, getting ready for a dive. Ted Robinson and Cynthia Potter were the play-by-play diving commentators and Robinson said the following about Mitcham’s win back in 2008, “Matthew Mitcham had a brief embrace…with a [pause] friend that resonated throughout the world.” It’s the use of the word “friend,” that really put a bee in my proverbial bonnet.

Let’s be clear here, Mitcham and Fletcher have been together for 6 years (2 years at the time of the Beijing Olympics). Fletcher was with Mitcham through some ups and downs, including when Mitcham retired from the sport prior to the 2008 Olympics. When Mitcham won gold, he gave Fletcher his Olympic bouquet. They are not simply friendsThis is a picture of a “brief embrace,” with a friend. And this. Oh, and this too, for good measure. See, that’s friendship. Mitcham and Fletcher, on the other hand, are partners, boyfriends, and lovers. This is what Robinson was referring to with this “brief embrace” comment and that is a man about to kiss his boyfriend.

Ted Robinson’s heart was obviously in the right place. The fact that he was discussing the monumental moment at all is pretty damn awesome. However, seeing as it’s 2012 and seeing as Mitcham has worked so hard at furthering the visibility of gay athletes, it’d be nice if we could move beyond the euphemisms. As they say, “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” I think NBC’s still working on the “getting used to it,” part.

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About HeatherN

Heather N. is a Californian living in the United Kingdom. In order to survive, she has developed a keen appreciation for the color grey, rain, and sausage rolls. She spends far too much time reading, writing, blogging, and gaming. You can also find her saying witty things on Twitter.

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