Olympic diver Greg Louganis is quite possibly “the greatest ever in the sport,” the New York Times recently wrote, but was never honored with his likeness on the cover of a box of Wheaties, a cereal dubbed as “The Breakfast of Champions,” produced by General Mills, which has been around for close to 100 years.
Wheaties typically features a well-known athlete on the front of the box. The HBO documentary Greg Louganis: Back on Board points out that Louganis has never been on the cover of a Wheaties box – in the documentary, Louganis is shown perusing various Wheaties boxes and with a shrug, says, “I never got a Wheaties box.”
When Julie Sondgerath learned about this, the Time wrote, she started a petition drive on Change.org to demand that General Mills correct this omission.
“It kind of broke my heart,” Sondgerath told the Times. “This is a guy who did everything right. He trained from his teens. He went to the Olympics. He won silver in 1976. He won gold in 1984 and again in ’88. He did everything right.”
This Olympic champion, who won three-gold medals and is along with being arguably at the very top of his sport, is probably diving’s most recognizable figure as well. Why, then, the snub by Wheaties?
GAY AND HIV POSITIVE
The answer – as Louganis himself suggests in the documentary – may lie in the fact that Louganis is openly gay, having come out publicly at the 1994 Gay Games. The following year, he acknowledged that he had tested HIV-positive just prior to the 1988 Olympics. A General Mills spokesman, the Times wrote, said that nobody from that period was left to discuss why Louganis might have been excluded.
Complicating the matter was that Louganis did not inform his doctor of his HIV status when the doctor treated him for a bloody wound Louganis received in a preliminary dive in the 1988 Olympics. “It was such a different time,” he told the Times. “There was a mentality of fear.” Could it be, then, that the decision was based on Louganis’ failure to disclose his condition to the doctor, or was it simply because Louganis is gay?
LOUGANIS’ GREEK HERITAGE
Louganis is of Samoan and Swedish descent. Born to two 15-year-old parents who concluded they were too young to raise him and put him up for adoption. Taken in by his adoptive parents, Peter and Frances Louganis, Gregory Efthimios Louganis became a Greek-American.
Would Louganis’ sexual orientation or HIV-status have prevented him from making the cover of Wheaties if he were a competitive athlete today? The answer is not evident, though longtime Wheaties spokesperson Bruce Jenner, another Olympic Champion, recently identified as a woman, with a new first name: Caitlyn.
While Wheaties has not complied with the petition’s request to put Louganis on the cover of its, box, the company has not ruled out that option, either. “Greg Louganis was certainly a world-class diver and truly embodied the championship mentality of a Wheaties athlete,” it said. “While we do not discuss future marketing decisions, we will look into how we celebrate his accomplishments.”