I'm just going to say it: Sports Illustrated has been sort of knocking it out of the park lately. The magazine that was once known by many as a vehicle for serious body envy issues (how many of us shuddered a little every time the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition came out on the shelves?) has been making headlines lately for its inclusiveness. SI's most recent cover was no different. In fact, Caitlyn Jenner's Sports Illustrated cover marked a big moment in the athlete's life, and it set the gold standard for gender equality.
The latest cover of Sports Illustrated features Jenner sporting the gold medal she won as at the Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada in 1976. Jenner won the gold medal for her record-breaking performance in the men's decathlon that year (she had not yet transitioned at that time), scoring an amazing 8,634 points. After her win, Jenner wrapped herself in an American flag and almost instantly became a media darling.
Jenner went on to be the face on the (now infamous) Wheaties box in the Seventies and made guest appearances on various television shows and movies, not to mention a little reality show called Keeping Up With The Kardashians. While Jenner certainly appeared to be on top of the world after her Olympic win, she told Sports Illustrated in an interview that, because she had not yet transitioned, she would sometimes stare at her body and feel "disgusted."
Jenner told SI's Tim Layden that she has had a complicated relationship with her gold medal over the years:
Sports. It’s not real life. You go out there, you work hard, you train your ass off, win the Games. I’m very proud of that part of my life. And it’s not like I just want to throw it out. It’s part of who I am. What I’m dealing with now, this is about who you are as a human being. What did I do for the world in 1976, besides maybe getting a few people to exercise a little bit? I didn’t make a difference in the world.
Jenner said that she has never had the medal on display, rather it's either been in her "nail drawer" or kept locked away in a safe. Wearing the medal on the cover of SI marks the first time Jenner has worn it in public in 40 years.
The former Olympian has been vocal about her struggles to reconcile the very public image of Bruce Jenner with the person she always was inside — Caitlyn Jenner.
"The rest of the world thought it was this Greek god kind of body," said Jenner. "I hated it. But it’s what I was given, so I just tried to do the best I could with it.”
And while she may not put too much stock in her gold medal, shrugging it off as something "great for the kids at show-and-tell," Layden begs to differ. He pointed out that without the gold medal, the world would not have come to know and love Bruce Jenner. And without Bruce Jenner, the world might not have met Caitlyn Jenner, a transgender activist who has become a role model for many transgender people across the globe.
As Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy, a specialist who works with nonconforming children and transgender youth at the Children's Hospital in Los Angeles, pointed out,
For parents who are scared or nervous about having a child come out as transgender, it suddenly feels like they’re not the only one, because they remember Caitlyn from the Olympics, and this is real. And for the kids, if they know Caitlyn at all, it’s from the Kardashians, but for them, their life is impacted by their parents’ being more open to their journey. It’s a lot easier for them if they have affirming and supportive parents.