Marco Werman: President Obama will not be traveling to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Instead, Obama chose the members of the official US delegation to the games, and it includes two openly gay athletes. One of them is tennis great, Billie Jean King. It’s being seen as a diplomatic slap at Russia’s law, banning so-called gay propaganda. Christine Brennan is a sports columnist with USA Today. She also helped write Billie Jean King’s book, Pressure Is A Privilege: Lessons I've Learned From Life And The Battle Of The Sexes.
Brennan says that Obama’s inclusion of King in the delegation is â€œa stroke of geniusâ€.
Christine Brennan: What better way to show the Nation’s disgust for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay propaganda law - In my opinion, anyway â€“ Than for Obama to send an American cultural icon, a sports legend who, by the way, also happens to be openly gay. I think it’s just a master stroke in terms of the United States sending a message to Putin that the nation cannot stand this law and is making the best statement it can at the opening ceremonies with the delegation that’s attending to the games.
Werman: Well, I mean, she is not afraid to speak her mind. Do you think that could get her into trouble, or do you think that may be part of the reason Obama chose her?
Brennan: I think it’s the latter, yeah. Speaking one’s mind obviously is something in the United States that we take very seriously. But the notion that the Olympics, which is all about inclusion and equality and opportunity would then be played, would be held, of course, in February in a country that that is so discriminatory against millions of its own people. It’s appalling, frankly. I’m a columnist, obviously, so I give my opinion.
Werman: Clearly a lot of people are upset with the anti-gay propaganda law in Russia. But this is not just gay rights though, it’s also international diplomacy. Now, could that backfire for the US-Russia relationship and maybe take the US down a path that the White House did not intend?
Brennan: You know, I’m not an expert on that. I’m an expert on sports and the Olympics and cultural issues involving sports, but my sense is that the President weighed all of his options and thought about this, and made this statement that will stand, in my mind, that will stand the test of time. I mean, who does not recall Jessie Owens winning four gold medals at the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936? Obviously most people weren't born then, I was not anywhere near born then, but I know the story as if I were there. So if Obama and if the US delegation is a part of writing another chapter in that kind of history, I think that’s a very good thing.
Werman: I mean, the Jessie Owens moment was a huge moment, but then of course came the war, and lots of horror and tragedy. What about post-Olympics in Sochi? There are gay Russian families who are planning to flee Russia because they’re so scared of these anti-gay laws, that they might even actually strengthen after the games. What can sports really do about that?
Brennan: That’s why I think, why we’re having this conversation, of course, Billie Jean King and then for the closing ceremony, Caitlin Cahow is also openly gay, hockey player, two-time Olympian for the US. She’s in the closing ceremony for the delegation. So I think that’s what’s so important here, is the visual. It’s the message. But to your point, there are millions of Russians who are gay, family members who are gay, friends who are gay, who have to live I that country, year-round. They don’t get to leave when the circus pulls up and leaves town two and a half weeks after they arrive, the Olympic Games. No, no. They've got to stay forever. And that’s what, to me, Billie Jean King is saying. The face of Billie Jean King is saying to those Russians â€“ Again, my perspective on this â€“ Is that the United States is with you, and I think that is a fabulous message to be sending.
Werman: I've got to say, since hearing the news about Billie Jean King, I have this reoccurring image in my mind of the â€œBattle of the Sexesâ€ match, only Bobby Riggs is replaced by Vladimir Putin, but I reckon Putin will be far more clever than Bobby Riggs.
Brennan: Oh. â€œBattle of the Sexes 2â€, I did see that on Twitter. Someone said that.
Werman: Oh really?
Brennan: And, I don’t know. Billie Jean King, I would not ever count her out of any battle.
Werman; Christine Brennan, a sports columnist with USA Today, thanks so much.
Brennan: Marco, thank you.