On Monday night, NBC did something that viewers who tune into the Olympics to watch sporting competition have long demanded: They passed over a human-interest story to focus on the action. Apparently, all you have to do to get the network to ignore you is be gay.
NBC’s rare moment of restraint came during its coverage of the men’s synchronized 10-meter platform diving event. As the British team of Tom Daley and Dan Goodfellow exited the pool after their third dive, the camera scanned the crowd, alighting briefly on two people wearing bright red Team Daley T-shirts. No attempt was made to identify the pair, who were cheering politely; instead, color commentator Cynthia Potter analyzed a slow-motion replay of the Brits’ three-and-a-half somersaults.
Who were the members of Team Daley? Daley’s mother, Debbie, and his fiancé Dustin Lance Black. That’s right, the screenwriter who won the Academy Award for best original screenplay in 2009 for Milk. Was NBC homophobic not to mention Black’s name? Could the network have resisted lingering over an Oscar-winner affianced to an Olympic medal-winner if the relationship didn’t involve two people of the same sex? Let’s weigh the evidence.
On the “not homophobic” side, we should acknowledge that diving is one of the Olympic sports NBC does well by. Thanks to gravity, it’s a fast-moving event, so the network is able to show most of the dives made by the top four or five contenders. Diving coverage is typically light on soft-focus stories, only pointing out the American divers’ families cheering in the stands. And although Black is American, Daley is not. Besides, all Oscars aren’t alike—a screenwriter is about two steps away from a journalist, for heaven’s sake.
Then again, do you really think they wouldn’t point out a diver’s celebrity fiancée if it were Marion Cotillard, Brie Larson, or another Oscar-winner whose fame level was roughly commensurate with Black’s? (In the gay press, Black has the recognition factor of Clooney or DiCaprio, but I’ll concede that a small fraction of Olympics viewers read the Advocate.) You don’t have to be the kind of person who sees homophobia everywhere to think the commentators were reluctant to bring up a star athlete’s homosexuality, especially as the camera lingered lovingly on the divers’ insanely ripped physiques, their minuscule swim trunks, and their long skin-to-skin hugs of celebration.
The verdict? Inconclusive. In the absence of more evidence, I’ll give the network the benefit of the doubt and instead see the emphasis on sport as a positive precedent. I can’t wait to see NBC ignore straight athletes’ family members in the weeks ahead.
Update, Aug. 9, 2016, 3:35 p.m. ET: After the medals ceremony, Black tweeted an adorable photograph featuring the fiancé and his newly acquired hardware.