United States President Barack Obama has selected former world champion tennis player, openly gay athlete Billie Jean King, to represent the US delegation during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
This decision sends a direct message to Russian president Vladimir Putin, who has made headlines around the world for implementing anti-gay legislation through his ban on “homosexual propaganda.”
Obama delivered this announcement on Tuesday December 16, and although he did not formally address the anti-gay politics in Russia, a White House spokesperson conveyed that the choice of the US delegation is to represent diversity.
“[The delegation] represents the diversity that is the United States,” Shin Inouye said. He added, “[The president] knows they will showcase to the world the best of America–diversity, determination and teamwork,” according to ESPN.
In addition to King, another openly gay athlete, hockey player Caitlin Cahow, will also represent the US in the closing ceremonies of the delegation.
The seventy-year-old King, an American icon, has won thirty-nine Grand Slam titles, including twelve singles, as well as sixteen women’s doubles and is the title owner of eleven mixed doubles. Although she has never competed in the Olympic games, she is certainly worthy of representing the US, especially during this controversial year.
A spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, Michael Cole-Schwartz, had previously sent a letter to President Obama, requesting that he consider choosing a gay or lesbian athlete to be represented in the delegation. “It’s a positive sign to see openly gay representatives in the delegation,” Cole-Schwartz said. He added, “Hopefully it sends a message to the Russian people and the rest of the world that the United States values the civil and human rights of LGBT people.”
Although Obama is sending King to Russia, the president himself will not be in attendance at the games; nor will the first lady or any former US presidents, making it the first time since 2000 that a past or current United States president has not attended the Olympic games. The White House said that President Obama’s schedule would not permit him to attend.
French President Francois Hollande and German President Joachim Gauck have also chosen not to be present for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.
King, who has been tuned into the anti-gay happenings going on in Russia, gave her thoughts on the issue in an interview with USA Today.
“Sometimes I think we need a John Carlos moment,” King said, in reference to the US track Olympian who was kicked out of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics for protesting racism.
King expressed that she was “deeply honored” to be a part of the delegation.
“I am equally proud to stand with the members of the LGBT community in support of all athletes who will be competing in Sochi and I hope these Olympic Games will indeed be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people,” King said, as reported by ESPN.
Although King will not be playing in the Olympics, the presence of this equality icon will send an important message, one which cannot go unnoticed by Russia or the world.