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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 8, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 15
Olympic Gold Medalist Greg Louganis to appear on Wheaties box
Section One
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Olympic Gold Medalist Greg Louganis to appear on Wheaties box

by Victor Hawthorne - SGN Staff Writer

Better late than never, General Mills announced that four time Olympic diving Gold medalist and five time world champion, Greg Louganis will be featured on their Wheaties cereal boxes as a part of their revamped 'legends' series starting in May.

Louganis, who is openly Gay and HIV positive, is the only man to sweep the Olympic diving events in back-to-back games when he won gold medals in both springboard and platform diving in 1984 and 1988.

In a 2015 HBO documentary called 'Back on Board: Greg Louganis,' the athlete said he understood that he wasn't featured on the Wheaties box during the prime of his career in the 1980s because he didn't fit the company's 'wholesome demographic' as he was rumored to be Gay.

'They didn't come out and say it, but the message was loud and clear. They knew I was rumored to be gay, and homosexuality wasn't going to fly on a wholesome Wheaties box.'

In a recent NPR interview, Louganis told host Ari Shapiro that he was glad to finally be getting the recognition. 'It's so incredible to be honored with the likes of Edwin Moses - we were in our first Olympic games in 1976 together.' When asked why being on a box matters, Louganis said that he 'didn't really follow it at the time' and that it all started in 1995 with the release of his best-selling autobiography Breaking the Surface.

'People were coming to me with these Wheaties boxes with my picture [pasted] on it and asking me to sign it. And it's like, well, what's this all about?'

He continued, 'Back in '95, you know, I wasn't expected to live very long because we thought of HIV-AIDS as a death sentence. So you know, to be here today, you know, now 56, the box means so much more to me than it would've then because I feel like I'm being embraced as a whole person, not just for my athletic achievements.'

General Mills' announcement comes after a documentary detailing Louganis' athletic career and experience as a Gay man sparked a petition on Change.org to get the diver on the iconic Wheaties cereal box.

Julie Sondgerath, an IT consultant in Chicago, started the petition last summer, saying she was inspired to start the campaign after seeing the documentary on Louganis' life.

'I was so distraught I started the petition that first night,' Sondgerath recalled.

After the petition gained attention last fall, garnering nearly 45,000 signatures, Louganis said that he holds no ill will toward General Mills but said that he still wanted the honor for his supporters.

'Do I need the Wheaties box to feel fulfilled? Absolutely not,' he wrote on WhoSay. 'To simply be here, living my life as my true self is rewarding enough. However, I feel like I owe this box to my friends, family, and fans that have been cheering me on for decades.'

General Mills spokesman Mike Siemienas told NPR he could not say why Louganis was not on the box previously because no one who was involved in those decisions still worked at the company.

However, Siemienas denied that the petition factored into the decision to put Louganis on the box, saying, 'We were aware of the petition, but appearing on a Wheaties box is not a popularity contest. Wheaties chooses athletes based on their achievements on and off their field of play.'

Openly Gay British Olympic diver Tom Daley was delighted to hear the announcement saying, 'I would have always wanted someone like him as a role model on the front of a cereal box. He's a great model and forever will be the greatest diver to walk this earth.'

At the end of the NPR interview Shapiro made a comment about Louganis now being introduced to a new generation that might not be as familiar with him through the Wheaties box and asked Louganis what message he would like to send this generation.

Louganis responded with one word, 'hope.'

'Hope because when I was diagnosed back in 1988, I was 28. Six months prior to the Olympic games, I didn't expect to see the age of 30. And here I am today at 56 and really living and thriving - that HIV isn't a death sentence.'

In the years since his diagnosis was made public, Louganis has been an outspoken HIV awareness advocate. He has worked frequently with the Human Rights Campaign to defend the civil liberties of the LGBT community and people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. On October 12, 2013, Louganis married his partner Johnny Chaillot.

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