Out There: Take The Stage

After winning a silver medal in the 800m, Nick Symmonds used the world championships as his stage to speak out against Russia's anti-gay laws. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Should Nick Symmonds be using the world championships to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay laws??

After winning his very first medal on a global stage, middle-distance runner Nick Symmonds used the opportunity to speak out for equal rights for his lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender friends. The catch? His global stage was the World Athletics Championships in Russia, the site of the infamous “anti-gay propaganda” laws.

“As much as I can speak out about it, I believe that all humans deserve equality as however God made them,” Symmonds told reporters. “Whether you’re gay, straight, black, white, we all deserve the same rights.”

RELATED: Symmonds Speaks Out About Russia’s Anti-Gay Law

Mind you, he didn’t plan to storm into such controversy. Before departing, Symmonds planned to be quite respectful of the host country, planning to keep his opinions to himself, finish his race, and come home to America.

Until he was pushed to break his silence.

“I am still walking a fine line here in Russia,” Symmonds said in an e-mail to BuzzFeed “attempting to be respectful of their laws and their culture, but at the same time trying to lend my voice to the movement for gay rights. I would say what inspired me to be a bit more vocal was a video I saw on CNN the other day. This video shows two Russian women kissing in a street and a deranged lunatic running up and pushing them down.”

Adds Symmonds: “That dipshit really pissed me off.”

First off, let’s commend Symmond’s use of the word “dipshit,” my second-favorite term of endearment for idiots (“asshat” has been holding down number-one spot since 1998).

More importantly, let’s acknowledge that what he did took guts. Based on the backlash he’s received, most people would rather he just shut up and run. But politics aside, I like that Symmonds is speaking up.

Let’s be frank – before Wednesday, he wasn’t a household name. But this week, he’s earned his fifteen minutes of fame, and he’s using it to shine the spotlight on other people. Whether or not you agree with his opinion, you’ve got to admit it’s a refreshing departure from some of the vapid, egocentric drivel some athletes spout.

Why not let athletes have a platform? They’re not just a bunch of spandex-clad puppets for our amusement. They have opinions beyond what shorts to wear and what supplements to take. When they go home, they are parents, spouses, siblings, friends, and neighbors. They are humans, with human relationships, human emotions, and human opinions.

If athletes are supposed to “just shut up and run,” then shouldn’t the same rules apply to actors, singers, and reality stars? If Symmonds is supposed to keep his mouth shut, then I propose Sarah McLachan and her sad-puppy commercials be banned from television. I’d like Gwyneth Paltrow to understand I just don’t want to do an organic juice cleanse, and would appreciate it if Bono would stop looking so damn smug behind those sunglasses of his.

Professional athletes are no different than a middle-aged amateur runner using his or her first marathon as a stage to raise money with Team in Training or to make a powerful strike in the fight against obesity. Many people have a message; few are brave enough to share it.

As Symmonds very well knows, the topic he selected to speak on is a controversial one. But he stuck his neck out anyway, because discussion — not apathy — leads to the change he’d like to see. Stagnant water only attracts mosquitoes, remember that.

Look at Jesse Owens, the African-American track star who boldly stepped on Adolf Hitler’s turf for the 1936 Olympics. Remember Katharine Switzer, who dodged Jock Semple’s violent attempts to stop her from becoming the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon. A lot of people wanted them to shut up, too.

Perhaps, just for today, we can put aside our opinions of his words and take a moment to look at Symmonds himself – how, as he was standing in the spotlight, he was compelled to step out and shine it on something more deserving.

I wonder how many of us would do the same.

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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