Jan 9, 2014, 9:51 AM EDT
Billie Jean King recognizes the impact of her presence on the U.S. delegation to Sochi. At the same time, the tennis legend stressed what she believes the Olympics are primarily about.
“I think when it all comes down to is it’s first and foremost about the athletes,” King said on TODAY on Thursday. “I was thinking about it this morning, trying to go way back when I was one of those athletes and how many years of discipline and how hard they work every day. This could be their one moment in time that they first represent their country and go for a medal.”
King, 70, was one of three gay athletes chosen by President Barack Obama in December to represent the White House at the Sochi Olympics. The others were two-time Olympic medalist hockey player Caitlin Cahow and Olympic champion figure skater Brian Boitano, who came out publicly two days after being announced on the delegation.
What kind of statement would King like to make in Russia, where a law is in place banning the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations toward minors?
“I think President Obama showed it,” she said. “He’s elected and selected three openly gay athletes, one very former athlete. I think Brian Boitano said it right. When we step off the plane, we are part of America. We are what America looks like. I think President Obama has done an amazing job on promoting diversity and inclusion.”
In September, King talked about the amount of activism from today’s athletes and said, “Sometimes I think we need a John Carlos moment.”
At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, the sprinters Tommie Smith and Carlos, gold and bronze medalists, raised their fists on the medal stand during the national anthem in a human rights salute. They were expelled from the Games.
This fall and winter, U.S. medal hopefuls such as Bode Miller and Ashley Wagner have voiced opinions against Russia’s law.
“It’s really about human rights, civil rights,” King said. “The athletes are speaking out.”
King pointed out Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which states: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
She doesn’t want anything to overshadow the Olympics themselves but does not know what to expect. King’s plan in Sochi isn’t to check off attending events but to get to know the athletes.
“I’m going to look for future leaders,” King said.
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