There has been much controversy over the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia because of that country’s brutally authoritarian anti-gay laws. I’ve been opposed to a boycott, which was never going to happen no matter how loudly people screamed for it, from the start. And I really like this move by President Obama:
Tuesday, Obama took a step forward in showing that example, selecting tennis legend and former U.S. Olympic coach Billie Jean King, a lesbian who has long been an LGBT equality advocate, to be a part of the delegation that will represent the White House at the opening ceremony on February 7. Hockey player Caitlin Cahow, who is also openly gay, will be a part of the delegation to the closing ceremonies on February 23.
King became the first major female athlete to come out in 1981. Cahow came out in an interview in November.The White House did not, of course, list King or Cahow’s sexuality or advocacy as a reason for their inclusion. King is a Hall of Fame tennis player and a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, and Cahow is a silver and bronze medal-winning Olympian, so both are worthy selections on their athletic achievements alone. But whether it was a reason for their selection or not, their place in Sochi will demonstrate exactly the point Obama said he hoped American athletes would make.
“The U.S. Delegation to the Olympic Games represents the diversity that is the United States,” the White House said in a statement.
“It’s obviously a statement that’s being made, but I think it’s an incredibly respectful one,” Cahow told USA Today. “Basically, the White House is highlighting Americans who know what it means to have freedoms and liberties under the constitution. That’s really what we’re representing in Sochi and it’s not at all different from what’s espoused in the spirit of Olympism.”
It’s purely symbolic, of course, but symbols matter. And I still hope that there will be a mass protest by athletes at the opening or closing ceremonies using other symbols as well.