Whether it's packing the stands for the high school Senior Night basketball game or going crazy in the streets when the local city wins the Super Bowl, sports have a way of bringing people together like nothing else can. When watching a game, match, or event, people can put aside their normal lives. No longer are they CEOs, barbers, lawyers, or teachers. No longer are they Democrat or Republican.
Instead, they are fans, and they experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, momentous victories and crushing defeats, all united under their common allegiance to a particular team. Joe Maddon, general manager of the Chicago Cubs, expresses this in American Creed, saying, “You want to make kids friends fast? Put them on the same team, with the same common goal, and I promise you color of skin, language barriers, what you like to eat, that goes away just like that.” Sports bring together people of all walks of life, and perhaps the pinnacle of this is the Olympics, where entire nations come together to root for their homeland.
This is why the story of LGBT representation at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea is such an important one. On sports’ biggest stage, fifteen openly gay athletes from several countries made their mark and ushered in a new era of inclusion in sports.
One such athlete was Netherlands speed skater Ireen Wust, the first out athlete to earn a medal at the Pyeongchang games. Another was Canada’s Eric Radford, the first openly gay man to win gold at the Winter Olympics. Two of the Olympians that drew the most attention, however, were Americans Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy. The two served as the first openly gay men to represent the United States in the Winter Olympics and did so admirably, with Rippon winning bronze in team figure-skating and Kenworthy placing twelfth in men’s freestyle skiing. Before coming out, Kenworthy won silver at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
It was not Kenworthy and Rippon’s athletic accomplishments that had everyone talking, though. America fell in love with the duo, and especially Rippon, as people. Whether it was politely calling on media members by name, shouting out Reese Witherspoon, or joking about needing a Xanax, Rippon was unequivocally himself, and it was refreshing. He and Kenworthy did not stick to the cookie-cutter, vanilla quotes that all athletes give in interviews, but instead let their personality shine, and in doing so they won over the hearts of the American people. The duo and all other gay athletes at the 2018 Winter Olympics represented the LGBT community extremely well, and were met by a nation largely ready to accept them for who they are. Rippon, Kenworthy and others capitalized on their platform as athletes to make significant strides toward LGBT acceptance and equality, proving that if there is one thing that can unite a nation and the world as a whole, it is sports.