In a move that was described by USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan as a "stroke of genius,” President Barack Obama has named Billie Jean King, the openly gay former player, to the U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, even though there is a Russian law on the books targeting homosexuals.
Some analysts have described Obama’s move as an open jab at Russian President Vladimir Putin. Over the summer, Putin signed a law banning the adoption of Russian-born children to gay couples. The hardliner also signed a law that bans public discussion of gay rights and relationships where children might hear it. Under that law, violators can be fined and foreigners can be deported.
Obama also named another lesbian, Caitlin Cahow, an Olympic medalist in ice hockey, to the delegation.
"Sometimes I think we need a John Carlos moment," King told USA Today, in reference to the U.S. track star who was expelled from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics 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. I wish I was 21 again and in the Olympics."
Obama has said that he disagreed with the idea of an Olympic boycott over the gay rights issue, but has denounced Putin's treatment of gays and met with members of Russia’s lesbian and gay community during his September trip to St. Petersburg for the G20 Summit.
Russian player Maria Sharapova, who has lived most of her life in the United States and will go to Sochi as a commentator for NBC, recently told the New York Times that she has gay and lesbian friends and does not support the law. Sharapova lived in Sochi from ages 4 to 7, and her maternal grandparents still do. She also publicly campaigned for Sochi to get the Winter Olympics.
“I think what needs to be addressed will ultimately be addressed,” she said of the law. “I think time will address this issue. It will. I’m proud of being Russian because I believe in the true core of its history and the culture, and that’s where I grew up, and I feel very proud to be from there. But never have I said that every individual there is perfect or every law is right.”