This headline would be unremarkable in most situations. After all Greg Louganis dominated international men’s 3m and 10m diving from 1980-1988 winning World and Olympic championships and being named Athlete of the Year in 1988. His accomplishments would make him a logical candidate to coach elite divers. However, another part of Greg’s story helps to explain, at least in part, why he has been absent from diving for 22 years. Greg is gay and HIV-positive. He spent his entire competitive career in the closet, revealing both his sexual orientation and his HIV status in his 1996 book, Breaking the Surface.
Greg attributes his absence from diving to homophobia and I would add probably also fear of AIDS. However, he is back now hoping to help US divers figure out how to beat the divers from China who have dominated both men’s and women’s diving for the last several years. This past weekend, however, the USA men defeated the Chinese divers while the USA women lost to them again.
The announcement that Greg would serve as a mentor to the USA divers follows the success of Canadian Figure Skating Champion Brian Orser as coach of 2010 Olympic gold medalist Kim Yu-Na. Brian is also gay and like Greg spent his entire competitive career in the closet, but is now coaching as an out gay man.
Late last year Pia Sundhage, the coach of the USA women’s soccer team, came out publicly on Swedish television, though she was not really in the closet before that.
Of course, there is also tennis legend and American icon, Billie Jean King, who coached the USA Olympic team and the Federation Cup women’s tennis teams. Shannon Miller, now coach of the University of Minnesota Duluth women’s ice hockey team which won the NCAA National Championship in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2010 and was the Canadian women’s coach which won the silver medal in 1998. Billie Jean and Shannon have had amazing coaching success at the national and international level.
These stories provide hope that openly lesbian and gay athletes who want to coach at the national and international after they retire from competition are increasingly judged on their athletic credentials, rather than their sexual orientation. Who knows how many other past or current national and international coaches are lesbian or gay? Probably more than this handful of out coaches. We know that the closet is as confining for coaches as it is for athletes and that coaches can do a better job when they are not protecting a secret in addition to dealing with all the pressure that comes with coaching at the national or international level.
It is noteworthy that all of these out coaches are working with women athletes or women’s teams except for Greg Louganis and he is officially serving as a “mentor” not as a coach of the USA team. We have a longer way to go before more openly gay men are coaching men’s teams, especially at the elite level and most especially working with team sports rather than individual sports.
Nonetheless, congratulations, Greg, and welcome back to diving. Your experience and knowledge will surely benefit both the USA men and women divers as they continue to rise to the challenge of surpassing the excellence of the Chinese divers.