Following last week's feature about homophobia and sport we heard about Ryan Miller
the world-class snowboarder who's open about his homosexuality. OutUK's Christopher
Kelly has been speaking to him about his plans for the coming year and his
ambition to make it to the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Ryan Miller was out on the piss with his snowboarding buddies. The lads were up
for action. Someone suggested they go visit a strip joint. As they headed off, Ryan
stayed put, announcing, "I'm gay".
"I got tired of putting on a straight-acting role," he says. His team-mates responded
with attitude. "I was shunned. Even the coach didn't want to know."
Ryan was forced to find himself another team. "Their response upset me. But at the
same time I had already prepared myself for it. I've been brought up to prepare for
the worst and celebrate anything better."
That was two years ago. By coming clean, Ryan became the only out gay snowboarder
on the professional racing circuit. As far as he's aware, he still is. "I don't
know of any even closeted," he says.
His current team is very defensive of him and won't let anyone have a homophobic
pop. "They've kinda picked up a torch for me," says Ryan. "If they hear someone
say something derogatory they'll throw it back by saying something like, 'well you're
the one who just got beaten by a faggot'.
And the faggot's whipping arse on the slopes these days. Ryan listed sixth in last
year's national championships and internationally rates at 28.
Along the way, he's taken a fair few knocks. Travelling at 50mph with only lycra as
protection has its hazards. Last season he messed-up a knee. But as soon as was able
he was back on the board. "The rush is addicted," he says. "It's like flying."
Ryan, 28, grew up in Pennsylvania. "A small, conservative, tight-knit community
where you were expected to get married, have kids and live happily ever after," he
says. "The concept of homosexuality was never discussed."
Through Thanksgiving to early April Pennsylvania is smothered in snow. Ryan was
practically skiing before he could walk. By 10, he was out on his snowboard seven
days a week.
At school, Ryan did "anything but participate in organised sport". He felt he didn't
"I tried football and baseball but always felt on the outside." He found the school
approach to sport sadistic. Childhood coaches espoused the 'sport is no place for
pansies' ethos, that is, if you're gay you're weak.
"It still creeps into my head at times when I don't perform well. I can think 'was
that because I had a bad day or because I'm gay?'"
So when there was no snow, Ryan immersed himself in music instead, playing flute,
piccolo, piano and drums. "I've always been an over-achiever".
By 15, the snowboarding had got serious.
Ryan became involved with a national ski organisation, helping to set up a snowboarding offshoot. "It all slowly snowballed from there,"
he says. "No pun intended."
After leaving high school, Ryan moved on to music college. Eventually, the music
came second fiddle to the snowboard (pun intended). Playing piccolo just didn't
deliver the same rush.
He decided to switch colleges, from music to business (eventually gaining a degree
in economics). It was at business school that Ryan met his first out gay guy. "He
turned round to me one day and said, 'how long have you been gay?' I was stunned."
The friend helped Ryan figure his sexuality out. "He said he wasn't about to make
the decision for me," says Ryan, "and suggested I go to the campus gay group to
explore my feelings in a safe environment."
Once Ryan got use to the idea himself, he came out to mum and dad. "They dealt with
it to the best of their abilities," he says. "But as with most parents they had
some issues with it." Issues, he says, that took 2/3 years to work through.
Today, "they're the most supportive parents I could wish for". Mum and dad are
his biggest cheerleaders and fundraisers.
Ryan's other love is his Kawasaki.
Ryan's also cheered on by the gay community. His main backer is
them I'd be sitting in an office all winter and have given up this dream a long time ago."
As for begging big bucks from brand names, most corporate companies aren't comfortable
placing their logos on gay sportsmen. "It's hard even to get a return phone call," says
Ryan. "The mainstream media and corporate America needs to recognise gay athletes
are just as viable and valuable as straight athletes."
It would help, says Ryan, if elite athletes on the up came out. "It's great we have
the out gay athletes we have, but the fact is they've all come out after hitting
their sporting peak. They've won their gold medals and cups."
Ryan doesn't need a degree in economics to realise that by coming out athletes are
taking a chance. "They'd need to be comfortable enough financially in sponsorships
to say 'to heck with it, I'm going to do it. And if I lose the last couple of years
of my endorsements, so be it'. That happening may actually expose the corporations
for the kind of standards they have."
So what are his feelings toward closeted athletes? "It's not my place to tell anyone
what they should do," he says. "It's a personal thing, like coming out to family
friends. The question is 'can you be happy denying who you are?'"
Ryan's aiming to be in Turin, Italy, in 2006 for the Winter Olympics. He's hoping to
make selection for the US snowboarding team in 2005.
As for the long-term future, Ryan's set up
Team Miller - a sporting organisation
geared toward assisting up 'n' coming gay and lesbian professional athletes
"I'd like for Team Miller to become a support network for gay athletes," he says.
He's hoping that as he picks up sponsorship, Team Miller, in turn, can sponsor
athletes itself. "It's probably not going to happen for a couple of years but
that's my ultimate goal." You couldn't fail to wish the man well.
Fighting Homophobia In Sport