RIO DE JANEIRO – Ever since the Sochi Games were cheekily called “The Tinder Olympics,” the use of dating apps by athletes in their Olympic Village has been an assumed part of the experience. Stories have been written about it. Condom reserves have been increased because of it.
So Nico Hines, a reporter in Rio for the Daily Beast, had an idea for a trend story: Sign up for four dating apps, and then see if he could hook Olympic athletes into meeting hm at the Village.
“For the record, I didn’t lie to anyone or pretend to be someone I wasn’t—unless you count being on Grindr in the first place—since I’m straight, with a wife and child. I used my own picture (just of my face…) and confessed to being a journalist as soon as anyone asked who I was,” he wrote, somehow convincing himself that a straight male reporter using a gay dating app for something other than dating isn’t “pretending to be someone he wasn’t.
Hines found instant success, “scoring three dates in the first hour,” thus proving that … um, well, we’re not sure what this was all supposed to prove. Adults use dating apps? Athletes are horny? Hines has a nice beard?
But in its original incarnation, Hines’s article went from problematic – straight reporter baiting gay athletes on a dating app for a story – to downright dangerous for some of the athletes he interacted with.
The original story had enough biographical details about the athletes where their identities were easily found through web searches, including those of a gay athlete from Kazakhstan, a place notorious for violence against the LGBT community.
The backlash was swift and immediate, including from Gus Kenworthy, the Olympic medalist skier who came out in 2015.
Hines’s piece was also pilloried by Slate:
It’s worth exploring why Hines embarked upon this weird, sleazy quest in the first place. I count two reasons. The first is that Hines simply enjoys tittering with condescension at all the gay athletes who take the bait and engage with him—a straight dude, as Hines emphatically reminds us. Why else zero in on Grindr? The second reason is more repulsive: Hines appears to take pleasure in luring in these Olympians then outing them to all the world.
But the offensive purpose of Hines’ article is really the least of its problems. Far worse is the actual damage it will likely cause to real, live human beings—inevitable consequences that Hines blithely ignored. Several athletes who are closeted at home (and possibly to their own teammates) will wake up on Thursday morning to the news that the Daily Beast has outed them.
From Mic, which slammed the journalistic ethics the story lacked:
The code of ethics also clearly states: “Avoid undercover or surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.”
Though Hines says he “confessed to being a journalist as soon as anyone asked who [he] was,” he never says he confessed to being a straight person who was ready to out athletes.
Hines chose to use “surreptitious methods,” but delivered no vital information in this article. His piece doesn’t respect his subjects: It mocks gay people and treats them like zoo animals behind a glass barrier.
And by Chris Hine (no relation), a gay sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune:
That is just about the worst thing you could do as a journalist covering gay athletes. Their No. 1 fear is being outed in any form.
— Chris Hine (@ChristopherHine) August 11, 2016
We asked Cyd Zeigler, founder of the gay sports website Outsports, his thoughts on the story. “I don’t have a problem with anyone going on Grindr or any dating app. They all come with their own risks,” he said. “The issue with what he did was then essentially narrow the field to small groups, like a team of 12 people from a particular country. That’s pretty low. I would never do that. Heck I wouldn’t even narrow it to an NFL team of 53.
“The guy was obviously trying to get clicks on his story. Let’s be real, that was the only goal here. There was no great revelation unveiled. That’s fine, but the way he did it did put some of these athletes in a terrible position.”
The Daily Beast responded to this embarrassment by slyly editing the piece here and there on Thursday before affixing a lengthy editor’s note to the end of it, which read in part:
There was legitimate concern that the original version of this story might out gay male athletes, even by implication, or compromise their safety. This was never our reporter’s intention, of course. No names were ever used and some of the profiles described were of straight women. But there was a concern that even mentioning the home nation of some gay athletes could compromise their safety. We apologize for potentially jeopardizing that safety in any way. As a result, we have removed all descriptions of the men and women’s profiles that we previously described.
The concept for the piece was to see how dating and hook-up apps were being used in Rio by athletes. It just so happened that Nico had many more responses on Grindr than apps that cater mostly to straight people, and so he wrote about that. Had he received straight invitations, he would have written about those. He never claimed to be anyone he was not, did not offer anything to anyone, and immediately admitted that he was a journalist whenever he was asked who he was.
Some readers have read Nico as mocking or sex-shaming those on Grindr. We do not feel he did this in any way. But it’s up to us to deliver stories that are so clear, they can’t be misinterpreted—and we clearly fell short of that standard in this article.
Except, here’s the thing:
Even after you get past the outing of gay male athletes from countries where they could face violent recourse; even after you get past the vile invasion of privacy in outing anyone through sloppily edited biographical details; even after you get past the vile violation of trust as a straight male reporter uses a gay dating app to bait athletes for a story; even after you get past an exercise in pseudo-journalism that exists to sex-shame consenting adults; even after all of that, you’re left with this basic failure of whatever the hell this article was attempting to accomplish:
“The concept for the piece was to see how dating and hook-up apps were being used in Rio by athletes.”
There isn’t a single moment in Hines’s story that touches on an actual human conversation, emotion or explanation about hookup culture in the Olympic Village. And Hines’s basic failure to clear the lowest bar imaginable as a journalist exists to underscore that this story seeks not understanding but titillation, seeks not insight but lazy gawking, and it’s content to treat gay athletes as disposable anecdotes rather than human beings whose privacy and safety should have been paramount.
How is this story still online?
Listen to Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski podcast from Rio on GRANDSTANDING, featuring U.S. swimming legend Summer Sanders on Michael Phelps, IOC doping and Donald Trump: