American Masters: Billie Jean King

(courtesy New Black Films, Ltd.)

Over the past week, speculation has been growing over what sort of delegation the Obama administration would send to the Olympic Games in Sochi. Would the President attend? The First Lady, as was the case in London two years ago? The Vice President, who led the delegation to Vancouver? Thankfully, the answer is a resounding “none of the above.” President Obama has pulled off quite a move with the delegation he has chosen, in that literally no cabinet-level members of his administration will be in attendance. The five former Olympians he has chosen, though, send an important message, in that two of them, tennis great Billie Jean King and hockey player Caitlin Cahow, happen to be out members of the LGBT community:

As controversy erupted over Russia’s anti-gay law ahead of next year’s Sochi Olympics, President Barack Obama said that he opposed boycotting the Games in favor of letting the United States delegation lead by example on the LGBT rights front.

“One thing I’m really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which i think would go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes were seeing there,” Obama said. “And if Russia doesn’t have gay or lesbian athletes, it’ll probably make their team weaker.”

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.


“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.”

Joining King at the opening ceremonies will be former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Michael McFaul, US Ambassador to Russia, Robert Nabors, President Obama’s deputy chief of staff for policy and figure skating gold medalist Brian Boitano. At the closing ceremonies, Cahow will be joined by former Olympians Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden, McFaul and deputy Secretary of State William Burns.

By sending a cohort of five of our best former Olympians, two of whom just happen to be LGBT, sends a strong message that in truly free nations, all should have the freedom to be authentic as they train, compete and win at the Olympic Games.

Joining President Obama in his lack of attendance at the Olympic Games in Sochi will be French President Francois Hollande and acting German President Joachim Gauck. Not since the 2000 Olympic Games has the United States not sent either the Vice President, President or First Lady to the Games. Their absence will be well noted by news commentators, by the Russian government and by their people.

Well played, President Obama. We applaud him for crafting a delegation that, indeed, reflects America’s diversity and is in stark contrast to what Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing to his own people. We must also recognize that, once this is all over, Russia’s true pogrom against its citizens may well begin. If you’ve been appalled by Russia’s actions of late, please do understand that this has been them on their best behavior. The fight will continue long after Russia’s Olympic moment in the sun is long forgotten.