Jan. 9, 2014 at 9:31 AM ET
Tennis legend Billie Jean King said she doesn’t need to make a statement against Russia’s anti-gay laws when she heads to Sochi. President Obama already spoke volumes when he picked her and two other openly gay athletes to represent the nation at the Winter Olympics.
“When we step off the plane, we are part of America. We are what America looks like,” she told Matt Lauer in a TODAY exclusive interview on Thursday. “So I think President Obama has done an amazing job on promoting diversity and inclusion. He has been the all-time president for doing that, and he’s showing the Russians, listen, everyone belongs in the United States.”
King, 70, will join openly gay athletes Brian Boitano, an Olympic gold medal figure skater, and Olympic ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow when she heads to Sochi, Russia for the games.
Before her selection to the U.S. delegation, King said the nation could use "a John Carlos moment” to protest the anti-gay laws recently enacted in Russia, including one that imposes fines for “gay propaganda.” Carlos is the sprinter who raised his fist in a black power salute on the medal stand at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
But on Thursday, King said she felt heartened that current Olympic athletes have already spoken up about the Russian laws. She pointed to recent comments by figure skater Ashley Wagner and downhill skier Bode Miller.
“The athletes are already speaking out. Between those two and others, who knows what’s going to happen,” she said.
King said her initial security fears while traveling have been eased after being assured of the U.S. government safety efforts that will be provided by the FBI and State Department.
“You got to go for it anyway. You can’t keep those types of things coming into your head,” she said. “When it all gets down to it, it’s first and foremost about the athletes. … This could be their one moment in time that they get to first represent their country and go for a medal. It’s an amazing moment for most of these athletes and that’s really what the Olympics are about.”
King said she doesn’t have any one particular event she wants to attend but instead plans to do some scouting.
“I just want to meet the athletes and get to know them,” she said. “I’m going to look for future leaders.”