It all started in August of last year, when HBO began airing the documentary, Back On Board. It's the story of Greg Louganis — you might remember he won gold medals in springboard and platform diving at the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games. He's still the only male to accomplish that feat.
"Never got a Wheaties box," he says in the documentary. "Their response was that I did not fit their wholesome demographics, or whatever. Basically, being gay."
That scene from the HBO documentary really got to Julie Sondgerath. She was in high school in the '80s, when Louganis was winning all those gold medals.
"And it was very sweet," she told Only A Game in August of 2015. "He didn't seem bitter about it. He was just like, 'Yep, it eluded me.'"
It means more to me today than it probably would've had I gotten it back in the day, because I feel like I'm being embraced as a whole person, you know, human -- flaws and all.Greg Louganis
Petition For A Change
Most people might have left it at that. But Sondgerath went to Change.org and started a petition. At first, she wasn't sure anyone would sign it.
"When I hit 100, I was elated," Sondgerath says. "I was like, 'Oh, that's awesome! People agree with me.'"
But there was still one person Sondgerath wasn't sure would agree with her petition to put Greg Louganis on the Wheaties box.
That person was Louganis. So, Sondgerath sent the championship diver an email.
"'Hi, my name is Julie Sondgerath. I started a petition. Here's a link," she recalls writing. "And he responded back that afternoon. And that's, that's when I felt a little more legit."
Louganis told me that Sondgerath shouldn't have been worried.
"No, no, no," he says. "I think that is so sweet, that, you know, somebody would make that effort. And I was just — I thought it was very endearing. And then when it took off, it was like, 'Oh my God, this is insane!' I mean, you know, over 40,000 signatures. And people were sharing it and liking it and signing the petition and, I mean, it was really kind of crazy."
General Mills Changes Its Tune
This week, General Mills announced that Louganis will finally be featured on a Wheaties box. He's part of the brand's Legend's series — for athletes who were overlooked the first time around. Boxes will start showing up in stores next month.
General Mills says it wasn't the petition that changed their minds. They say such things don't matter when it comes to choosing their featured athletes.
[sidebar title="Sondergrath On OAG" width="630" align="right"] Back in 2015, Julie Sondergrath talked to Only A Game's Bill Littlefield about her petition to put Louganis on a Wheaties box. [/sidebar]
But for Louganis, those 43,846 signatures mean something more than just getting his picture on a box of cereal. Back in the 80s, when Louganis was told that he wasn't "wholesome" enough to appear on the Wheaties box, he hadn't yet talked publicly about being gay. His HIV status was a closely guarded secret — he had been diagnosed shortly before the 1988 Games. At the height of his career and his popularity, fans didn't really know him. And now they do.
"It means more to me today," Louganis says. "It really does. It means more to me today than it probably would've had I gotten it back in the day, because I feel like I'm being embraced as a whole person, you know, human — flaws and all. I've put everything out there, so people, you know, they're embracing a gay man living with HIV who recently got legally married in the state of California and, you know, I think we're just gonna continue moving forward."
"You posted a photo on Twitter of yourself about to eat a spoonful of Wheaties, and I'm wondering if they taste any better now that come out of a box with your photo on it?" I ask.
"Yeah!" he says. "I mean, it's just, I mean it's so exciting, you know? Never would I dream of this happening, you know, the Wheaties box. It's iconic."
And, as Louganis knows better than most, now that gay athletes have come out during their careers in the NBA and the NFL, a picture on a box of cereal is just the latest of many dreams to come true.
This segment aired on April 9, 2016.