Where Are They Now? | Catching up with Josh Dixon

“The platform and level in which I was competing was so much more than myself.”

At a time in the sport where virtually no male gymnasts were openly gay, Josh Dixon became a pioneer. In 2012, the former U.S. national team member and 7-time All-American from his time at Stanford made headlines when he publicly came out as gay. As Dixon trained for the Olympics, it was brought to light that no openly gay gymnast had competed for Team USA on the sports biggest stage. Publicly reveiling his sexual orientation was as much about setting himself free in order to unlock his full potential as it was about paving the way for other LGBTQ+ gymnasts to be true to themselves and feel safe in the sport.

Representing the LGBTQ+ community, particularly in the sports world, is a responsibility that Dixon has fully embraced. And more now than ever before, gymnasts are openly (and proudly) walking down the path Dixon helped to pave. 

Inside Gymnastics caught up with Josh Dixon to talk highlights from his gymnastics career, the importance of LGBTQ+ visibility in the sport, and the advice he would give to athletes struggling with their identity.


 

You won two NCAA team titles during your time at Stanford from 2008 to 2011. The program has had continued success, recently clinching the NCAA title for the third consecutive season. What has it been like to see the program’s success since your time? 

While at Stanford we did a really good job bringing that program back to championship form. This certainly couldn’t have been done without recognizing the brilliance of the teams prior to my four years (namely the run of titles in the 1990’s), the depth and camaraderie on the ’08-’11 teams, and the tremendous support staff that were the brains behind the operation (JD Reive, Brett McClure).

It’s been awesome to see that the Stanford team has regained that moxie with the tremendous talent that has continued to call Stanford home, and I can only hope that it continues to develop champions and inspire youth athletes and coaches to the top level in sport.

However, I will take the opportunity to mention that while the Stanford program is winning, the sport as an entity in the NCAA ecosystem is losing, losing horribly. Programs are getting cut and funding is falling by the wayside, too often we see reactive positioning by individual programs or the gymnastics community — it’s not enough.  

Candidly, men’s teams need to take a page from many of the women’s programs that have become huge successes in multiple arenas. Look around, many of them have unlocked the entertainment value, fan experience, and fan engagement aspect of the sport — all while creating champions. They have created impactful community relationships, individual storylines, and program footprints that galvanize an audience beyond scrutiny of the four inches on a beam, inside the lines of the floor exercise, or to which degree of perfection a vault is being done.  

Men’s NCAA gymnastics needs to do a better job working together to raise the success metrics, visibility, entertainment, storytelling, and engagement rather than purely focusing on the next national team member or team title. Credit to the diversification of talent in some of these head coaching roles (I think there should be a female coach way up in the ranks), but there’s still tremendous work to be done in bringing positive disruption to the way things are done in the men’s gymnastics NCAA ecosystem. The men’s program that I’ve always admired in terms of leadership in many spaces would be Oklahoma with Mark Williams at the helm. He’s gone the extra mile to activate his community, brings a different level of visibility to the sport, shares captivating storylines, actively engages with different constituency groups (LGBTQ+, POC, etc.) to show that OU is a welcoming place to all, instills a sense of civic pride in the OU fans when coming to watch them compete, oh and by-the-way, always being a top contender. I’ve always had tremendous respect for Mark taking his responsibilities beyond the simple coach-to-athlete construct. 

When you look back on your career, what would you say is your proudest moment? 

I wouldn’t say I have a standout singular moment, rather a bunch of small ones that really make me appreciate my ability to participate in the sport and contribute to something much larger than myself. That could be:

  • Having a tremendous time in the junior pipeline which inspired me as a kid to dream and work really hard.  
  • Understanding the work-to-win and team aspect of NCAA competition through a couple national titles. 
  • Making the senior team while going through a transformative time of my life in college.
  • Representing the U.S. in international competition.  
  • Having a club coach come up to me at a junior event saying that it meant a lot for his team (primarily Black gymnasts) to see somebody who looked like me competing at a high level.
  • Having a full circle moment to my hometown / college ecosystem for the 2012 Olympic Trials where I was once that 6-year-old watching the big boys but was now a member on the U.S. team living out that goal.  
  • Having judges, parents, and my colleagues in the sport tell me that the visibility around being an athlete in the LGBTQ+ community was inspiring and respected.
  • And at the end of the day, I can say for certain that nobody can doubt my work ethic (… a dismount at the end of a HB set maybe, LOL ), but that I don’t have any regrets in gymnastics and can close the chapter at peace.

You came out publicly in 2012. What led you to that moment? 

What led to that moment was recognizing that I could no longer do this thing where I’d park one side of me far far away to then strictly focus on the craft. It worked up to a point, a point I realized in college, but not until I brought my entire self to the sport was I able to further unlock my potential, enjoy the sport, and navigate gymnastics with a clear mind.  

A close friend and teammate helped me recognize that the platform and level in which I was competing was so much more than myself. I embraced that responsibility. Yes, I was going to pour every bit of myself into the craft and put being an athlete first, but if along the way I could help represent a different constituency of athletes in the LGBTQ+ community, the Black community, the Japanese community (I’m half Japanese), the adopted-youth community (I’m adopted), I was going to do it. It also helped alleviate pressure – I always competed far better and with much more freedom when I mentally positioned it for the benefit of somebody or something else. Additionally, I would be doing a disservice to the gymnasts I looked up to, the pioneers in gymnastics and other sports that were out and visible athletes that allowed me to dream. 

The sport of gymnastics has a pretty large LGBTQ+ fan base and over time we’ve started to see more openly gay athletes on the competition floor. During your time, you were one of the only ones. Why do you think visibility is so important? 

We love to see it! Speaking to the fan and community engagement mentioned above, it’s super important to highlight those storylines and journeys to make things real and engaging for people who are watching the sport. To have that emotional connection. It’s tremendously important because with visibility comes awareness, awareness leads to education, education sparks creativity and innovation, and in turn, a more dynamic, larger, inspired community. Especially for kids! If they can see somebody, talk to somebody, go to a sport that is safe and welcoming for them by their peers/coaches/etc., that’s the true value of sports. It unites, inspires, and helps unlock potential. 

I never sought out to be the ‘gay-athlete’ and I recognized the power of visibility of those I looked to in sports. In speaking to why it doesn’t always exist in gymnastics, it’s because undoubtedly there’s those rumblings of “well the committee doesn’t like gays, the national team staff doesn’t like XYZ, the judge’s blah blah blah, let me just focus on being a gymnast…” I recognize that but I saw it as an excuse or too narrow of a view on the sport. Trust me, I heard it all from some of my more dramatic teammates. 

Subjectivity in the sport exists, no doubt, you are literally judged on what the performance looks like, but these ‘what-if’ factors never disrupted my mind or my process. In the vein of visibility, for me, if not for athletes like Dominique Dawes, Michael Johnson, the Williams Sisters, Lisa Leslie, etc., I, quite frankly, wouldn’t have been able to believe in a dream of that magnitude without seeing somebody who looked like me.  Same goes for the LGBTQ players; BJK, Martina Navratilova, Greg Louganis, etc. So, I would say to those in the sport right now, coaches included, allies included, think about the impact others had on you and your journey, and if you’re doing that for those who are looking to you while expanding the responsibilities of your role within the sport.

What advice would you give to athletes out there who may be struggling with their identity? 

Know that you’re not alone. Know that you have a tremendous community in the gymnastics landscape to seek the advice and mentorship that you need. There are allies, coaches, gym owners, that ARE here for the right reasons and never hesitate to ask for help.  

What have you been up to since retiring from gymnastics? 

I’ve had a fun journey since. Immediately after concluding gymnastics, I worked on a coordinated US Senate race in the 2016 election cycle, which led to working for a Latina female within the halls of the United States Congress. I operated a family office, founded a PR/ Media advisory company, became a co-owner in a professional soccer team (impetus being leveling up women in sports and bringing value + experience to the conversation around gender equity in the workplace). I own and operate a SPV for tech investing and currently partner in the VC space, which has been the perfect confluence of experience and love of sports to the business and investment side of venture opportunities in the sports ecosystem. Most recently, an endeavor that I’m particularly proud of, is having awarded a sixth scholarship back to my High School alongside my foundation partner (who was also my High School classmate, and prom date, before I knew I was into guys LOL). Like anybody, I’m still learning more about my passions that inspire me and I’m grateful to have a tremendous opportunity to pursue professional endeavors.

Photos courtesy of Josh Dixon 

Check out some of our other “Where Are They Now” features:  Elizabeth Price (click here), Andreea Raducan (click here), and Alaina Kwan (click here)

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