SBD/December 18, 2013/Olympics

President Obama Won't Attend Sochi Games, Selects Two Gay Athletes For U.S. Delegation

Obama's selection of gay delegates garnered praise from many in the media
The White House announcement yesterday that President Obama, VP Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama will not attend the Sochi Games is "a pointed snub by an administration that is feuding with Russian leaders on a range of foreign policy and human rights issues," according to David Nakamura of the WASHINGTON POST. The U.S. delegation will be led by former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, and it "will include two openly gay athletes -- tennis legend Billie Jean King and ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow -- in an apparent bid to highlight opposition to Russia’s anti-gay laws." Napolitano will "head the U.S. delegation to the opening ceremonies," while Burns will "head the delegation for the closing ceremonies." This will mark the "first time since the Summer Games in Sydney in 2000 that a U.S. Olympic delegation did not include a president, first lady or vice president" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/18). Cahow said, "It's obviously a statement that's being made, but I think it's an incredibly respectful one. 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" (USA TODAY, 12/18). Meanwhile, the AP's Eddie Pells reported the IOC "approved a letter going out to athletes reminding them to refrain from protests or political gestures during the Sochi Games -- reiterating Rule 50 of the Olympic charter, which forbids demonstrations on Olympic grounds" (AP, 12/17).

SETTING THE RIGHT TONE: USA TODAY's Christine Brennan writes Obama's selection of King for the official U.S. delegation "is a stroke of genius." It is the "perfect call for an extraordinary international situation" (USA TODAY, 12/18). ABC's Jon Karl said Obama sending America's "most prominent openly gay athlete" to Sochi sends a "clear message" to the Russian government. King "made it clear immediately that she intends to use this post to make a statement about gay rights in Russia and beyond" ("GMA," ABC, 12/18). YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel wrote Russia President Vladimir Putin "clearly can buy a lot," but in this case he "can't buy the approval of the United States, at least on this particular human rights issue." This is the "proper tone, the high road in a dispute where the United States clearly holds the progressive and modern position of inclusion and acceptance." It also is a "proxy public-relations battle, which Olympic sports have long been used for." Wetzel: "What better 'propaganda' is there for the acceptance and respect of homosexuals than by showcasing successful, powerful and uplifting gay athletes -- with the full and complete support of the White House behind them?" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/17).

BUY AMERICAN, BUILD AMERICA? ABC's David Muir examined the controversy about the Chinese-made USOC mittens that are for sale and said, "Obviously, there's nothing wrong with selling mittens to raise money for our American athletes. But why not help American workers at the same time?" This comes less than two years after the Ralph Lauren uniforms the U.S. team wore at the '12 London Games Opening Ceremony were discovered to have been made in China. Muir: "Why would the Olympic Committee ignore the labels again?" A USOC spokesperson stated that the organization "wanted to create a fundraising opportunity where almost anyone could support Team USA." That is why the mittens only cost $14. But Muir rhetorically asked if China was the "only place that can make a $14 pair of mittens" ("World News," ABC, 12/17).
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