Olympic gold medal winner isn’t gay, but he appreciates his gay fans, including the ‘Bears for Steve Holcomb’ Facebook page
It started, as many things do — purely by accident. I was at home on a Friday night, making dinner while watching the Winter Olympics from Vancouver.
Admittedly, I wasn’t intently watching, because I didn’t want to burn my food. The program was showing the results of the two-man bobsled team.
That’s when I first saw the pilot of the USA-1 bobsled team, Steven Holcomb. Admittedly, my initial reaction was shallow; here was an attractive, bearish guy with a great smile representing the United States at the Olympics.
My friend Jason, who was staying with me that weekend, came home in time to see the network replay of the bobsled competition. When it was over, we surfed the Internet to find all things "Holcy" and stumbled upon his team Web page.
A phone number was posted on the contact page. Jason thought it might be a cell phone, so he sent a text to the number.
It was a cell phone. Specifically, it was Steven Holcomb’s cell. I know this, because he texted back.
Later, I read that he likes to browse the Internet on his phone even in the heat of competition, because it relaxes him.
We texted back and forth with him for almost 30 minutes, asking him about life in the Olympic Village and cheering on the bobsled team. The chat ended when he said he needed to go to sleep, and he gave us his e-mail address.
Several days later, we stumbled onto his Facebook page, and both of us sent in a friend request. They were quickly accepted. After the Olympics ended, we found a fan page, "Bears for Steve Holcomb," and joined it as well. That page has attracted more than 1,500 fans.
Mind you, when we had our text chat with Steven, we didn’t say we are gay. The text from him came so suddenly and was such a surprise it simply didn’t come up.
In fact, after we finished texting, Jason and I talked about how or what we would say. How would he react to the fact that he’d been chatting with two gay men 2,000 miles away late at night? After all, he needed to keep his focus on the competition, and we didn’t want to serve as a distraction.
Also, his Facebook page indicated he was interested in women.
It turns out it wouldn’t have been a big deal. Steven’s sister and brother-in-law joined the "Bears for Steve Holcomb" Facebook fan page, and they report he not only knows he has gay fans, he’s flattered at the attention from the bear community.
Think of that for just a moment. Aside from Scott Fujita of the New Orleans Saints and Brendan Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens, how many other straight ally active professional athletes can you name that have expressed support for LGBT issues?
Granted, being flattered by attention isn’t the same thing as being an advocate, but it beats having someone actively working against the community.
And, what’s there not to like, even if you’re not a bear?
In his interviews, Steven has been self-effacing and down to earth. His shuffle-step "Holcy Dance" is a YouTube sensation, complete with techno remix. And, he’s an admitted sci-fi geek who added Facebook friends in between bobsled runs and posted pictures of him getting a two-hand massage to his Twitter feed.
I admit it — I was guilty of stereotyping. I didn’t know if a world-class athlete and U.S. Army veteran would accept having a legion of hundreds of gay fans, and wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer. It appears he’s perfectly cool with them, which is a good thing.
As the Olympics drew to a close in Vancouver amid giant inflatable beavers, William Shatner and high-kicking Mounties, Jason and I texted Steven again. We congratulated him on the gold medal for the four-man bobsled competition and wished him safe travels back to the United States.
We didn’t hear back from Steven, but he posted on his Facebook page that he had received more than 800 congratulatory messages and would do his best to answer each and every one of them as soon as he could.
Even if I never get to meet Steven Holcomb in person, our little chat brought the Olympics home to North Texas in a special, personal way. It also reminded me that stereotyping only divides people, instead of allowing them to come together.
Sometimes, it takes a beefy, bearded Olympic gold medal winner who’s not afraid to have gay fans to remember that lesson.
Rafael McDonnell is strategic communications and programs manager for Resource Center Dallas, and a member of the Dallas Bears.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 12, 2010.