Adam Rippon On What It Means To 'Show Every Part Of Who You Are'

Originally published on September 16, 2018 6:00 pm

Adam Rippon has had a very busy year. The figure skating star has been snatching titles, ranging from U.S. figure skating national champion to Olympic bronze medalist.

As an openly gay athlete, Rippon has served as an inspiration and role model not only in the athletic world but also as an advocate and representative for the LGBTQ community.

In March, he gave a stirring acceptance speech as the recipient of the Human Rights Campaign's Visibility Award. In his speech, Rippon encouraged viewers to embrace their imperfections and take pride in just being themselves.

Rippon will also be making a guest appearance on the second season of the Will & Grace reboot. And on a recent visit to NPR's Washington, D.C., headquarters, he discussed his responsibility to his community, as well as his acting chops, in an interview with NPR Weekend Edition host, Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Interview Highlights

On his acting skills

I've stretched the truth before in a few instances. My mom's here; I'm sure I've done a few acting jobs at home as a kid. ... To be on the set that I saw when I was watching Will & Grace as a kid, it was such an honor.

On being a role model in the LGBTQ community

I think that to have representation is a big thing. I think my responsibility is [to] talk about those issues.

I'm from a really small town in Pennsylvania. Only about a week-and-a-half ago, my brother sent me this article, and there's a university — it's a very small, religious university — and this school expelled a student for being gay. I mean, that's a five-minute walk from my house.

I will say that there was another local university that stepped up and offered to help him finish his degree, which speaks to the kind of people that I know are in my area. And I think that if we're in a position to help people that you should always take advantage of that. It's your responsibility to pay that forward for somebody who may be younger than you or who might be going through the same thing; to give them the courage to go through it themselves or to do something to make their road a bit easier.

On becoming confident in his identity

That underlying of homophobia is something that I felt growing up. I didn't come out until I was in my very early 20s and it was because I said I would just deal with it later. And then life sort of catches up with you and you realize "OK, there's no, like, 'right time' to deal with something you should deal with right now."

But when I did, it's when I really came into my own in my career. You know the saying, that "ice is slippery" — we say it all the time in skating and it's so true. The ice is slippery. You can't control everything but if you don't give 100 percent you can control that. In a sport where you have four minutes to show who you are and what you're made of — if you can't really show every part of who you are, are you really giving 100 percent? And I think that speaks to kind of everybody.

On paving the way for other athletes

I know other athletes that are out have made it easier for me to be out. One of my really good friends who I met at the Olympics, Gus Kenworthy — you know, he comes from an X Games sport. I think there's a lot of internal homophobia that he deals with and so, it takes a lot of courage for him to come forward. And we had a conversation that like when we came out, we told ourselves, like, "OK, now I need to be better than I've ever been before so nobody thinks that I'm weak because I'm gay or I'm not as good because I'm gay" — which are awful thoughts.

But, you know what? It was a responsibility and it felt like something that I was ready to take on. I think that's why I felt like I was ready to come out publicly when I was in my mid-20s — I felt like I was ready for that responsibility. I made sure that I was skating well so that I was a good representation of my community.

On his future as an Olympian

I had such a great experience. There's nothing more that I want to accomplish as an athlete and I think it was just the best way for me to end my Olympic journey. I mean, if I do [return to the Olympics], I will come back here and [to NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro] we can buy the tickets together, because it will not be as a competitor.

NPR's Sophia Boyd and Viet Le produced and edited this story for broadcast. Cameron Jenkins produced this story for digital.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Figure skating star Adam Rippon has had a very busy year. And we're not just talking about that bronze medal he came back with from the Winter Olympics. As an openly gay athlete, he's inspired fans on and off the ice. There was "Dancing With The Stars," a visibility award from the Human Rights Campaign and, oh, an upcoming guest appearance on the second season of the "Will And Grace" revival.

ADAM RIPPON: I mean, it was surreal. To be on the set that I saw while I was watching "Will and Grace" as a kid, it was, like, such an honor.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So do you think acting is in your future? Is that, like, something that you think that you could be doing?

RIPPON: I don't know. Maybe. I've stretched the truth before in a few instances.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

RIPPON: My mom's here. I'm sure I've done a few acting jobs at home that - as a kid.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rippon stopped by our studios here in Washington - mom in tow - to talk LGBTQ representation and his role as a role model.

RIPPON: I think that to have representation is a big thing. I'm from a really small town in Pennsylvania. Only about a week and a half ago, my brother sent me this article. And there's a university - it's a very small religious university. And this school expelled a student for being gay. I mean, that's a five-minute walk from my house.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you hear stories like that from home and now that you have this status - you know, you're well-known. You're someone that people look up to. What do you think your responsibility is for that?

RIPPON: I think my responsibility is talk about those issues. I will say that there was another local university that stepped up and offered to help him finish his degree, which speaks to the kind of people that I know are in my area. And I think that if we're in a position to help people - that you should always take advantage of that. It's your responsibility to pay that forward for somebody who might be younger than you or who might be going through the same thing to give them the courage to go through it themselves or to do something to make their road a little bit easier.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That thing that happened by where you lived - I guess it might speak to a certain attitude where you grew up. I mean, was it hard for you?

RIPPON: Yeah. I mean, it was hard. But, you know, I think that underlying of homophobia is something that I felt growing up. You know, I didn't come out until I was, like, in my very early 20s. And it was just because I said I would just deal with it later. And then life sort of catches up with you. And you realize - OK - there's no, like, right time to deal with something that you should deal with right now. But when I did, it's when I really came into my own in my career.

You know, the saying that, you know, ice is slippery - we say it all the time in skating. And it's so true. The ice is slippery. You can't control everything. But if you don't give 100 percent, you can control that in a sport where you have four minutes to show who you are and what you're made of. If you can't really show every part of who you are, are you really giving 100 percent? And I think that that speaks to kind of everybody.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you feel, like, within the Olympic athlete world that you being so out openly and sort of embracing that has made it easier for other athletes to do the same?

RIPPON: I know other athletes that are out have made it easier for me to be out. I know one of my really good friends who I met at the Olympics, Gus Kenworthy - you know, he comes from an X Games sport. You know, I think there's a lot of, like, internal homophobia that he deals with. And so, you know, it takes a lot of courage for him to come forward. And we had a conversation that, like, when we came out we told ourselves, like, OK. Now I need to be better than I've ever been before, so nobody thinks that I'm weak because I'm gay or that I'm not as good because I'm gay, which are awful thoughts. But...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's such a big burden to bear.

RIPPON: But you know what? It was a responsibility. And it felt like something that I was ready to take on. And I think that's why I felt like I was ready to come out publicly when I was, you know, in my mid-20s. I felt like I was ready for that responsibility. I made sure that I was skating well so that, you know, I was a good representation of my community.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you planning on going back to the Olympics?

RIPPON: I mean, if I do, I will come back here. And we can buy the tickets together...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

RIPPON: ...Because it will not be as a competitor.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK.

RIPPON: But I had such a great experience. There's nothing more that I want to accomplish as an athlete. And I think it was just the best way for me to end my, like, Olympic journey.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Adam Rippon, Olympian, activist - thank you so much.

RIPPON: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOONLIT SAILOR'S "WEEKDAY ESCAPE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.