The Olympic Village is overrun with athletic libidos — famously so. Dating apps crash. Balconies and hot tubs become the site of post-competition parties. At least one fan has suggestively nibbled a bronze medal. As U.S. soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo told ESPN in 2012, “There’s a lot of sex going on.” Olympic sexuality seems to warp to the point of hyperbole: In preparation for the 2016 games, the International Olympic Committee supplied condoms to Rio de Janeiro in bulk — some 450,000 contraceptives, enough for each athlete 42 times over.
That Olympic athletes have sex, it is safe to say, is old news. (Nor is there evidence sex is somehow detrimental to athletic performance.) But on Tuesday, Daily Beast reporter Nico Hines attempted to find a new way into this breach. His goal, according to an article that was later purged from the website, was to answer the odd question, “Can an Average Joe join the bacchanalia?”
In a sense, Hines found what he set out to find. He thumbed through Rio with a panoply of hook-up apps, including Tinder, Jack’d, Bumble and Grindr. Grindr, an app designed for men to meet other men, was Hines’s “instant hookup success.” He received three date offers in an hour. The reporter, who is straight, defended his methods in his story: “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.”
By another metric — reader response — the article was a disaster. Though the Daily Beast chose to forego names, Hines included physical descriptions as well as the fact that one Olympian using Grindr hailed from a “notoriously homophobic country.”
— Amini Fonua (@AminiFonua) August 11, 2016
What had been a watershed moment for sexual diversity at the Olympics — 49 of the 10,500 athletes are publicly out, a record high for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender competitors — was replaced by concern for the safety of closeted LGBT athletes, particularly those who may have to return to homes made more dangerous by potential outings. Columnist and LGBT advocate Dan Savage urged the Daily Beast to pull the story, writing on Twitter that Hines was “probably gonna get some gay guy killed with this piece.”
Responding to the backlash, Daily Beast editor John Avlon initially appended a note to a revised version, apologizing “for any upset the original version of this piece inspired” while supporting the article’s fundamental premise and approach.
“The concept for the piece was to see how dating and hook-up apps were being used in Rio by athletes,” Avlon wrote. “Some readers have read Nico as mocking or sex-shaming those on Grindr. We do not feel he did this in any way. However, The Daily Beast understands that others may have interpreted the piece differently.” Descriptions of the athletes’ profiles on the various dating apps were removed from the article, although cached versions of the original article remain online. (For an archived version of the revised article with descriptions of the athletes’ profiles on the apps removed, click here.)
In the eyes of Andrew M. Seaman, ethics committee chair at the Society of Professional Journalists, the story was “journalistic trash, unethical and dangerous,” as he wrote on Thursday at the SPJ ethics blog. Hines’s premise failed to validate the surreptitious approach, Seaman said, per the organization’s code of ethics. Namely, who is sleeping with whom in the Olympic Village is not vital information to the public.
“Assuming a news organization wished to spend its resources on a story about the sex life of Olympic athletes, it could be easily done with much more tact,” Seaman wrote. “For example, a reporter could use dating apps to contact athletes to arrange interviews instead of fake dates.”
Thursday night, the Daily Beast pulled the article completely, replacing it with an editor’s note. “We were wrong,” the site’s editors wrote. “We’re sorry. And we apologize to the athletes who may have been inadvertently compromised by our story.”