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.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

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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47 Responses to “Obamas, Bidens, top officials won’t attend Sochi Olympics – sending openly-gay Billie Jean King”

  1. Marina says:

    Why would you care what other countries do and think? If USA didn’t put its nose to every other country’s business it’d be better for all! Stay here in the US if you have a problem with Russian laws. Trust me nobody cares what americans think of their (Russian in this case) laws. Shouldn’t you solve American problems instead of Russian if you are an American citizen?

  2. Marina says:

    You are a real idiot… I am sorry, but please don’t post stuff like this again!

  3. Outspoken1 says:

    Let’s also honor the courage of our openly gay delegation and athletes entering a country where homosexuality is a punishable offense and there is no protection from vigilantes (for lack of a better term). The US Constitution does not follow you into foreign countries! Hurray to Billie Jean King, Caitlin Cahow and others who are entering that snake pit!

  4. karmanot says:

    You are one step ahead of me your Honor! :-)

  5. vejo says:

    Finally! OK, Janet, your turn, no excuses…

  6. BloggerDave says:

    I guess you haven’t heard that he came out today…

  7. Thom Allen says:

    It used to be that earning a degree, from baccalaureat to advanced, was worthy of some degree of respect. It’s really dispiriting to see that people like Palin, Regnerus, Santorum, Rand Paul, Bachmann, Bush and many others have gotten undergraduate and, possibly graduate or professional degrees. Perhaps wee need to restructure the educational system at the collegiate level. And maybe make a year of ethics courses mandatory . . .

  8. Thom Allen says:

    WOW! He didn’t wait till Sochi.

  9. dcinsider says:

    She does “self identify” as Dr. Biden, which is why I thought I’d point it out. I agree overall with your sentiment. And please call me Judge. :)

  10. vejo says:

    Brian’s closetedness highlights the insidiousness of Russia’s laws. It’s time for him to show some courage. Janet too.

  11. karmanot says:

    While Dr. Karmanot appreciates the formalities of title in the academic environment, it has always struck him as slightly gauche to be used as an ornament of gravitas, except to perhaps acquire a better table in a Georgetown eatery.

  12. BloggerDave says:

    Brian Boitano came out today so that makes it 3… Officially…

  13. Karan Vashishat says:

    I am not gay but what i am surprised at is how easily heterosexuals have termed homosexuality to be “Unnatural Sex” Here is a detailed view point of the topic which may change everyones’ mindset
    about the topic.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Why pretend they have an argument?

  15. Dakotahgeo says:

    I couldn’t be happier for our representatives! Straight-forward, upright people!

  16. Dakotahgeo says:

    LOLOL… no, no, no… let the idiot make a fool of himself. It’s cheap entertainment for the asking. 1973m is the perfect GOTPer Fundie extremist for the target practice.

  17. Palto says:

    Oh shut up troll.

  18. BloggerDave says:

    Don’t be a mean girl… All are welcome…

  19. Whitewitch says:

    I think I understand what you are saying and the Competitors truly have my empathy – they do. It is hard to know what to do in these instances and each being must do what they think is right….

  20. Nathanael says:

    It’s a good move, *but* I worry about the safety of the US (and other) athletes. This is a very dangerous environment to send them into, with gay-bashing and murder being openly promoted.

    I guess the black and Jewish contestants survived the Hitler Olympics, but frankly the threat here is different: Hitler’s attacks were government-organized. This is the government giving would-be vigiliantes license to set up their own lynch mobs. It’s much more dangerous.

  21. 1973m says:

    We got you now Vlad!!! We are sending gay and possibly gay(Napliatano) people to lead our olympic delegation!!Woo HOO!! In your face Vlad. Who cares that he shamed our President in foreign policy and made us look like paper tigers begging for rescue. Who cares that he basically took back the Ukraine for Russia with an empty suit Ukrainian President. We showed him. We are sending in the gays.

  22. emjayay says:

    Turns out Caitlin Cahow is openly gay, in case you didn’t know either. This delegation was rather obvioulsy not chosen at random. A couple of gay people and a couple of closet cases among them.

  23. emjayay says:

    Is the delegation more able to pull off the rainbow shoelaces and pins thing? I don’t see the committee saying no medals for you, some old guy in the parade had a tiny pin on we don’t like.
    Brian’s Wikipedia entry has nothing about anything under Personal Life. Except he lives in San Francisco. But then he was born in Mountain View and went to high school in Sunnyvale.

  24. emjayay says:

    Hmmm, all the things I wrote above six hours later…..

  25. emjayay says:

    Our people? The competitors? Unfair (see above). The delegation? If the athletes are there, the delegation is supporting them and symbolically representing the US and our values. Much better than either of them not going, which would be portrayed as spoiled children taking their ball and going home. And a lot of oh, they’re so perfect, well, what about Iraq and slavery and inequality and…
    I think what Obama decided to do is a very deft and respectful move.

  26. emjayay says:

    No one is going to not send athletes to the Olympics. People who have been training for years and may have just one window of opportunity shouldn’t and won’t be deprived of their chance because of protesting Russian’s regressive policies. Everything else is fair game though.

  27. FLL says:

    The scorecard so far:

    (1) not sending any high-ranking government officials: United States, Britain, France, Germany
    (2) sending openly gay athletes as part of their delegation: United States (Billy Jean King and Caitlin Cahow) … other countries? Does anyone know?
    (3) boycotting Sochi Olympics entirely by not sending athletes to compete: no major countries yet, but still waiting for some country to start a trend

    As far as sending Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, to head the U.S. delegation, that leads us to Wikipedia and the rules that Wikipedia uses to edit or delete personal biographical information. What rules does Wikipedia use, anyway? Can individuals successfully challenge Wikipedia’s rules, and on what legal basis? This is from Wikipedia’s summary of Janet Napolitano’s personal life:

    Napolitano has never married or had children; as a result, there has been speculation about her sexual orientation. This included some campaign activity in 2002 when “vote gay” fliers were posted next to her campaign signs. She is not gay, she has said, “just a straight-up, single workaholic”

    As February approaches, this may get interesting.

  28. karmanot says:

    “I even expect at least one mention of “Obamacare”.” or “fetus’ or “Benghazi” Maybe even an “Acorn.”

  29. Whitewitch says:

    If the President and Vice Veep are not going than they should pull our people out. It is simply not good enough to give Russia a slap – they need a quick swift kick in the monetary value of the games to realize they are wrong in their treatment of sentient beings. Honestly….

  30. dcinsider says:

    And the even better news is that he did not send Rev. Rick Warren.

  31. nicho says:

    Brian Boitano may be homosexual, but I don’t consider someone “gay” until they accept their sexual orientation and live authentically.

  32. dcinsider says:

    I think you mean Dr. Biden not Mrs. Biden.

  33. Monoceros Forth says:

    It’s all too easy to put oneself in that cast of mind and imagine its thoughts. I’m reminded of what C. S. Lewis said about writing The Screwtape Letters:

    Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment….Though it was easy to twist one’s mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The work into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst, and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness, and geniality had to be excluded.

    (emphasis mine)

    Even Lewis, in telling us that it wasn’t much fun to write as though he were a tempter and a corrupter, sneaks in an admission that every now and again it was a bit fun. “Not for long,” but still fun.

    He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.

  34. Indigo says:

    Weak as that is, it’s the best that could be expected in the wonderful world of diplomacy and, frankly, considerably more definitive than I expected from President Milquetoast.

  35. Indigo says:

    Trying on the “bat shit crazy Republican” image, I take it. :-)

  36. perljammer says:

    Is this the Olympic version of a sternly-worded letter from the State Department? Weak.

  37. S1AMER says:

    Rather brilliant way to make a low-key statement, Mr. President. Thank you!

    I know that many people have advocated that the U.S. boycott this Olympics, but that seems a bit petty and could have given Putin PR ammunition in many parts of the world. (Additionally, of course, that’s just unfair to all our athletes who have worked so hard to quality and really don’t deserve to be penalized by events beyond their control in a foreign country.) This, I think, is far more powerful, and far more impressive, international-politics-wise.

  38. Thom Allen says:

    Monoceros Forth,
    You sound EXACTLY like a RepubliconTeabaggerKKKNazi, though more eloquent. You sure you aren’t switching sides against us? Or are you just channeling Bachmaniac, Palin, frothy, Cruz, Gohmert, Boner, Lyin Ryan, Cantor and so many others?

  39. Bill_Perdue says:

    That ends all pretense by Obama of opposing Putin’s homophobia. There will be no boycott of the Olympics. Just a little slap on the wrist. Maybe a little sting but no knockout punch. .

    No wonder our brothers and sisters there got angry at him.



  40. Monoceros Forth says:

    I think all the spluttering editorials will write themselves. I expect there’ll be no end of right-wing breast-beating about the President’s boorish lack of respect for the laws and traditions of Russia, about how he is insulting the noble purity and high tradition of the Olympics with his partisan politics, and how he is a godless tyrant grinding under his bootheel the sacred principle of religious freedom. I even expect at least one mention of “Obamacare”.

  41. Thom Allen says:

    Maybe Brian will come out at Sochi.

  42. Jim Olson says:

    Fox News meltdown in 3…2…1…

  43. BloggerDave says:

    Why are we all pretending Brian Boitano is not gay?

  44. This is a most excellent decision and list of people.

  45. heimaey says:

    I’m impressed.

  46. Anonymous says:

    Excellent decision. Now is the time to rock the boat.

  47. StraightGrandmother says:

    Thank You Mister President!
    The President of Germany, the President of France, and today the Prime Minister of Belgium, ALL sending Putin a message.
    Putin gave a party and nobody came.

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