Considering queer-friendly media is becoming more and more common, it may not have seemed like a big deal when NBC showed U.S. Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy, one of the few openly gay male Olympians at PyeongChang, sharing a celebratory kiss with his boyfriend Matthew Wilkas after one of his slopestyle qualifying round runs. But Kenworthy and his boyfriend's kiss was a big deal, and it may be a sign that sports coverage treatment of queer athletes is changing, according to Outsports.
The televised kiss is certainly a huge step for Kenworthy personally. He made headlines in 2014 for earning a silver medal at the Olympics in Sochi, but he came close to making headlines for an entirely different reason. He had planned to come out to the entire world, his family included, by kissing his then-boyfriend after his last run in Sochi, but decided not to at the last second, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Kenworthy told NBC in January 2018, "I think in a lot of ways, it would have been an amazing statement to make, but also I don’t know if I was totally ready at that point. I hadn’t told my mom, I hadn’t told my dad, I hadn’t told any of my friends. So it would have been a shock to the world, but it also would’ve been a shock to my inner circle. I think it just wasn’t the right time for me, so I waited until it felt like it was."
Kenworthy ended up coming out publicly in a 2015 ESPN Magazine cover story "after he had come out to his inner circle," according to The Hollywood Reporter. Now, in PyeongChang, Kenworthy is one of the first openly gay men to compete in the Winter Olympics.
The split-second kiss between Kenworthy and Wilkas was part of his celebration with what appeared to be several other family members, as well as gay YouTuber Tyler Oakley. Wilkas ducked in, planted a quick smooch, then hugged Kenworthy — a totally everyday gesture, and one that would be expected if your loved one was showing off their skills as one of the world's top-notch athletes.
But the fact that NBC showed their kiss is powerful, and according to Outsports, is an improvement over the network's previous Olympics coverage. The site pointed out that during its coverage of the opening ceremony in PyeongChang, NBC didn't mention any of the 14 openly queer athletes present, which Outsports called "a head-scratcher" considering the first out gay male athletes being present at the Winter Olympics was "an historic moment for the LGBTQ community."
Kenworthy and Wilkas' kiss has drawn support on social media, with some users chiming in about the fact that the kiss was shown at all.
Some were just plain proud.
Some talked about the impact their kiss could have on queer folks.
And some mentioned that times are a-changin'.
Wilkas, who's an actor, chatted with TIME after the kiss, and "taking a moment to think about it, [he] realized that yes, he was probably part of something historic: a kiss between a gay athlete and his boyfriend at a mass audience spectacle like the Olympics, shown during network primetime television," TIME reported.
According to NBC, which also chatted with Wilkas post-kiss, the difference from Sochi to PyeongChang "wasn't lost [...] on Wilkas." He told NBC, "I can’t really speak for Gus. I can only assume it’s monumental for him." He added, "I think it’s overwhelming. I think he probably won’t be able to fully process it until later. This whole experience has been unexpectedly moving for him. I think he feels the pressure of it. The pressure of representing the community here and wanting do so well here for people who love him and also people who hate him and are wishing him to not do well just because of who he is. The pressure of that is intense for him."
For queer people, it's heartening to see coverage that treats queer athletes and their significant others the same way it treats non-queer athletes and their significant others. And though it's totally worth celebrating that Kenworthy and his fellow openly queer athletes are making history at PyeongChang, there's always the hope that one day, there won't be any firsts left. That queer people will have broken the many boundaries put on us, and will have done so much, that there will be no more firsts. Only nexts.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated Gus Kenworthy told NBC he had planned to kiss Matthew Wilkas at Sochi in 2014. Kenworthy did not begin dating Wilkas until 2015; he had planned to kiss then-boyfriend Robin Macdonald. The text of the article has been updated for accuracy.