Amidst the words of Vitaly Milonov, the man behind the ‘gay propaganda’ ban that was signed into federal law on June 30 by the Russian government, and the fear of human rights violations to both athletes and spectators at the upcoming 2014 Sochi Olympics, there has been a lot of talk on social media and among gay rights activists in the United States regarding a potential boycott of the Olympics.
The law in question is a provision that bans gay propaganda, which in the eyes of Russia can be seen in something as simple as two same sex individuals holding hands in public. This law allows the government to arrest or detain gay or even pro-gay tourists for up to two weeks before they are deported and those who break the law may also be fined up to $30,000. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has assured the public by saying that the anti-gay law will not target foreign athletes or visitors to Sochi for the event. If we, as an international community, can assure the safety of all athletes and visitors, then Americans must compete under the red white and blue at the upcoming Olympic Games.
Even as the United States inches closer to equality with the recent Supreme Court ruling of DOMA, it is truly saddening to see another country like Russia take two steps back in equality. Yet even here in the United States, gay rights and acceptance among professional sports still has a tendency to feel like it is perpetually stuck in 1990. A professional athlete has no desire to be looked at and judged for anything other than their performance in their sport.
There are some well-known “out” American athletes competing outside of the major four sports including figure skater Johnny Weir, tennis player Billie Jean King, and soccer player Megan Rapione. However, we as a nation are still working at finding acceptance among the sporting world.
Boycotting the upcoming Sochi Olympics would be a disservice to every current and future gay athlete who fights every day to be judged solely on the performance of their sport and not on who they love. In the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, America brought 216 total athletes. Of these 216, only 87 were returning Olympians. Assuming the numbers for 2014 are similar, close to 60% of the American athletes will only get one shot in an Olympic games. Only one shot to stand on the podium listening as the Star Spangled Banner plays and millions back home watch with pride.
For many of these athletes, the possibility of actually getting a medal is not even the most important experience in the Olympics. The athletes take pride in the once in a lifetime opportunity of being an Olympian. It represents all the days, weeks, and years of sacrifice a professional athlete must endure to push themselves to the top of their craft. I for one don’t want to take away the Olympic experience from any of these athletes because Russia wants to pretend that in a country of 143 Million people, they can push all the gay people into some corner of Siberia.
I love watching the Olympics. It gives us a chance to learn more about the global community, as well as our own country, and has often been at the forefront of political and social issues. These upcoming Olympics present a unique opportunity to engage in new discussions about what still needs to be done internationally, as well as back in America, in terms of gay rights and acceptance among professional athletes.
The most beneficial way to accomplish the dream of acceptance is to show up loud and proud at Sochi.
I know I will be sitting in front of the TV with an American flag in one hand, and a rainbow one in the other.