Monday, August 31, 2015
Earlier this month HBO aired Will Sweeney’s documentary, Greg Louganis: Back on Board and one viewer was struck by something she saw in the film, or rather, something she didn’t see.
Julie Sondgerath watched a piece in the film where Greg Louganis is looking at a display of Wheaties boxes featuring Olympic athletes like Amy Van Dyken, Laura Wilkinson and Brooke Bennett, and she realized that Louganis, one of the greatest divers ever, had never been on the cover of a Wheaties cereal box as so many other American Olympians had before, and after, him.
And in terms of what Wheaties looked for in their cover athletes — being great champions — Greg Louganis certainly deserves the recognition. He won 13 world championships, a silver medal at the 1976 Olympics, 2 gold medals at the 1984 games, and 2 more gold at the 1988 Olympics; he is also made history at the 1982 World Championships the first diver ever awarded a perfect score. And yet he is one of the few star athletes, and Olympic multi-medalists never given the Wheaties box.
The question is why? And the answer might be homophobia. Even Louganis says so in the documentary, though there was not one person from General Mills in agreement; a spokesman for the cereal-maker said no one from that period was left to discuss the decision-making.
But there were rumors, both in 84 and 88, that Greg Louganis was gay; he was out, to be sure, but only to friends and family, and did not publicly come out as gay until the Gay Games in 1994, In 1995, in his autobiography Louganis revealed that he had tested positive for HIV before the 1988 Olympics, and, out of fear, he did not inform the doctor of his condition when he treated the bloody wound caused when Louganis hit his head on the springboard during a preliminary dive.
Greg Louganis seems almost fine with the omission from Wheaties, seeming to suggest that his being ignored by the cereal giant be placed in the context of the 1980s, a different time in America for gay people, and those with HIV.
“It was such a different time. There was a mentality of fear.” — Greg Louganis
But Will Sweeney, the producer of Back on Board, isn’t quite so understanding:
“Here was a guy who by any metric or evaluation was the dominant figure in his sport. And here he was standing against a wall of Wheaties boxes of people who people don’t know. How was it possible he never had a Wheaties box?”
Perhaps that can change now, almost thirty years after Greg Louganis’ last gold medal dive. I mean, General Mills recently honored the late Jim Thorpe with a Wheaties box, and has also honored many athletes after their retirement. Now, to be fair, Thorpe’s achievements occurred decades before Wheaties featured athletes, and he died in 1953, long before the medals that were revoked for his being a professional were reinstated in 1983, but in 2001 he was finally honored with a Wheaties box of his own.
Julie Sondgerath was so moved by the documentary, by Louganis’ talent, and by the desire to see him honored, that she created a petition on Change.org [HERE] asking that General Mills correct the error.
For his part, Greg Louganis is not campaigning for a box cover, but he is pleased by the sudden attention and the drive to make this change:
“I know that it’s done out of love and compassion. It comes from such a loving place that I’m just grateful to have that kind of support.”
Wheaties is well aware of the petition and released this statement:
“Greg Louganis was certainly a world-class diver and truly embodied the championship mentality of a Wheaties athlete. While we do not discuss future marketing decisions, we will look into how we celebrate his accomplishments.”
How you celebrate them is the same way you celebrated Mary Lou Retton and Carl Lewis and Michael Phelps, among others.
Put Greg Louganis on a Wheaties box. It’s that simple, and it’s well past time.
Greg Louganis photo