By TRUETT LEE VAIGNUER, JR.
The presence of Johnny Weir, that fur clad two-time Olympic figure skater, has always been intriguing. He is one of the most recognizable athletes in modern times, and yet he can wear an evening dress to any gala and get away with it.
Johnny Weir is a pop culture icon: the documentaries “Pop Star on Ice” and “From Russia with Love,” his reality show “Be Good Johnny Weir,” and tabloid controversies keep the public interested. With all this publicity it’s hard to believe Johnny Weir, the gay celebrity athlete known throughout planet earth, is an excellent reference to defend those young athletes that disclose their sexuality without much ado, only to continue on with their day-to-day routine.
The idea for this article started a little over a year ago. In search of additional athletes for a research project I asked a few friends for help. One question was: Will there be any press? I begrudgingly told this contact that this was scholarly research on former male college athletes who are gay, and the subjects would not be identified. I assumed there would be no interest if there was no recognition. And lo – I was wrong.
There was extreme interest to participate in the study and, to my surprise, a number of athletes wanted assurance their participation would be anonymous. But why this aversion, I asked. And the answer was not a modern scientific breakthrough nor was it hidden in the classic ideology of Freud. Un-dramatic at best, the universal answer was it’s not my personality. Phrases like “It’s not really me” and “I’d feel uncomfortable – it’s not like me to be the center of attention” kept coming up.
And then I had a realization: It doesn’t have to be front-page news when an athlete comes out, and unless it’s that athlete’s true character, then chances are the coming out process might not be very positive.
I realized that we like Johnny Weir because his character is true. It’s odd, Weir has been out for a few years now, way before Michael Sam or Robbie Rogers; however, death threats over wearing fox fur get him on the front page, not his sexuality. Over the past few years I have moderated and/or been a guest on numerous panels discussing identity issues within the field of sports, and other than Weir’s appearance he is usually not an athlete mentioned. No one seems to think Weir, an openly gay, highly celebrated athlete, will help the younger generation come out. Honestly, I’ve never heard anyone say or never seen it written that, “Johnny Weir is an out professional athlete and he will inspire other athletes to come out.”
So let’s face it: Even with his obvious good looks and killer body, Weir is not traditionally masculine, nor is he the boy next door. It’s the boy next door that shies away from the flashbulbs, but the boy next door is strong. too. He, like Johnny, is true to his identity, just keeps life simple.
Johnny Weir, however, is anything but simple, and perhaps somewhat difficult to relate to, but that’s who he is. And that’s why we love him. Who else would be so bold as to tackle Russia, apologize for it, and yet skate alongside Russian champion, Evgeni Plushenko.
So Johnny gets the press, paparazzi and fanfare, all with no apologies, yet so many others do not. And that’s OK. For every one Johnny Weir, there are probably a thousand anti-Johnnys out there, satisfied to be themselves, living life as an openly gay athlete void of the media. And if that is their truth then we need to celebrate it, right?
Dr. Truett Lee Vaignuer, Jr. is an adjunct psychology professor and counselor at the City University of New York. He counseled drug addicts, homeless youth and the disabled population before working in higher education. He is researching a new book on the identity formation of gay athletes in the campus sports culture.