Obamas, Bidens, top officials won’t attend Sochi Olympics – sending openly-gay Billie Jean King

In what is definitely being perceived as a slap at the Russians, neither President Obama, Mrs. Obama, Vice President Biden, nor Mrs. Biden will be attending the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Instead, former Secretary of Homeland Security, but now-private-citizen, Janet Napolitano will lead the US delegation, and the delegation will include former tennis star Billie Jean King, who is openly-gay.

That means no top administration officials will be going to Sochi, a dramatic departure from previous Olympic Games

The German and French presidents have also said they will not be attending.

The US delegation, listed below, includes at least two gay people.  Both Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow, who was an Olympic silver medalist and bronze medalist in women’s ice hockey, are openly gay.

Bad Russia

Why is this a slap at the Russians?  Because, as Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed notes, not only was the decision announcing the delegation significantly delayed – suggesting something was up – but an Obama or Biden have attended every other Olympics during President Obama’s tenure in the White House.

In 2012, Michelle Obama lead the US delegation to the Summer Olympics in London.

Then in 2010, Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, attended the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.

Also, in 2008, which was still the Bush presidency, President Bush himself attended the Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. 

Kidnapped young gay Russian forced to drink urine by vigilante groups the Russian government refuses to prosecute.

Kidnapped young gay Russian forced to drink urine by vigilante groups the Russian government refuses to prosecute.

What’s the administration up to?  Several things.  The US relationships with Vladimir Putin’s Russia has been contentious for a while.  Human rights, including gay rights, have played a significant role in the problems, but so did the quasi-defection of NSA analyst Edward Snowden (Russia was one of the few countries that would give him asylum), issues surrounding missile defense, and Russia’s ban on Americans adopting Russian children, among other issues.

Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow

Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow have their work cut out for them, as I’d imagine 99% of the interviews they’re going to do, before, during and after the Sochi Olympics, are going to include questions about Russia’s draconian crackdown on gay and trans people, including passage a gay “propaganda” ban that essentially makes it illegal for anyone to be openly gay, or for any straight person to say or do anything that suggests being gay is okay.

Both women are representing the President, the country, and gay people worldwide.  The Russian government may very well try to make propaganda hay with their attendance, as it did with the the recent concert that gay singer Elton John held in Moscow.  A Russian official attempted to claim that the fact that Elton John sang a concert in Moscow was proof that Russia isn’t systematically abusing the human rights of its gay and trans citizens.  So expect an equally twisted response to the presence of Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow.

It’s thus incredibly important that both King and Cahow, but really the entire US delegation, be on message regarding all the concerns the US and the world has with Russia, but particularly the human rights concerns.  Some celebrities, like MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts, and NBC Olympic commentator Johnny Weir, have been decidedly off-message, and in fact perceived by many to be making statements downright helpful to the Russian regime, and harmful to the country’s oppressed gay community.

johnny weir

Weir appeared on Keith Olbermann’s show earlier this year dress in a Russian/soviet military uniform.

Roberts suggested, incredibly, that he hadn’t faced any discrimination during a recent visit to Russia to host the Miss Universe pageant.  As if the fact that Roberts wasn’t gay-bashed – and let’s face it, no one likely even knew who he was, let alone that he was gay – somehow has any bearing on the threats of violence and discrimination that gay and trans Russians face every day.  Johnny Weir has been equally unhelpful, suggesting at one point that New Jersey treated gays just as badly as Russia.

King and Cahow have already made good statements

Billie Jean King recently gave a great statement to USA Today about the role of athletes protesting Putin’s anti-gay crackdown:

In a recent conversation with USA TODAY Sports’ Kelly Whiteside, King talked about the general hesitancy U.S. athletes expressed regarding the law.

“Sometimes I think we need a John Carlos moment,” she said on Sept. 25, referring to the U.S. track star who was expelled from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics along with American sprinter Tommie Smith for protesting racial discrimination.

“I think there’s watershed moments, benchmarks. I would hope the majority of the athletes would speak out. It’s a great platform.”

Then she sighed. “I wish I was 21 again and in the Olympics.”

But ya are, Blanche ;-)

Cahow’s statement, also to USA Today, was pretty good as well:

“It’s obviously a statement that’s being made, but I think it’s an incredibly respectful one,” Cahow told USA TODAY Sports. “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.

Here’s the entire US delegation, courtesy of the White House

The Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russian Federation will be held on February 7, 2014.

The delegation will attend athletic events, meet with U.S. athletes, and attend the Opening Ceremony.

The Honorable Janet A. Napolitano, President of the University of California, will lead the delegation.

The Honorable Michael A. McFaul, United States Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

The Honorable Robert L. Nabors, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy.

The Honorable Billie Jean King, Member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, Member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mr. Brian A. Boitano, Olympic gold medalist, figure skating.

The Closing Ceremony of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russian Federation will be held on February 23, 2014.

The delegation will attend athletic events, meet with U.S. athletes, and attend the Closing Ceremony.

The Honorable William J. Burns, Deputy Secretary of State, will lead the delegation.

The Honorable Michael A. McFaul, United States Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

Ms. Bonnie Blair, five-time Olympic gold medalist and one-time bronze medalist, speed skating.

Ms. Caitlin Cahow, Olympic silver medalist and bronze medalist, women’s ice hockey.

Dr. Eric Heiden, five-time Olympic gold medalist, speed skating.


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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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