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After being selected to the official U.S. presidential delegation for Sochi, Olympic ice hockey player and openly gay athlete Caitlin Cahow hopes to spread the message of diversity and acceptance amid the controversy over Russia’s strict anti-gay laws, she said on TODAY Thursday.
Tennis legend and LGBT activist Billie Jean King, who was chosen along with Cahow for the delegation, said that perhaps Sochi is an opportunity for a "John Carlos" moment in the LGBT movement. At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, U.S. track athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised fists in a Black Power salute to protest racial inequality.
On Thursday, Matt Lauer asked Cahow on TODAY if she would be willing to be part of a similar protest moment.
“Honestly, I think that my John Carlos moment right now is going to Russia and being present and representing the United States,’’ Cahow replied. “This delegation represents so much more than just LGBT diversity; we have a really remarkable diversity in the United States, and I think that’s what all of the athletes in Sochi and the delegation will be demonstrating."
President Barack Obama will not attend the Sochi Olympics, and sending Cahow and King as part of a delegation headed by former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been viewed as a rebuke to Russia’s anti-gay laws, which include fines for “gay propaganda.” Cahow told Lauer she was “elated” and "thrilled" to get the call from the White House asking her to serve on the delegation.
“The president has been very open his feelings about Russian policies, and I think he’s been very open about his feelings about LGBT policies here at home, too,’’ Cahow said. “I’m going over to Sochi representing a country that has made the most dramatic shifts on some of these issues in the last few years, and I’m very proud to be representing that kind of diversity.”
Lauer asked Cahow if she thought she would have been chosen if she were not openly gay.
“I can’t really speak to that,’’ she said. “I wasn’t on the selection committee. I think there are a lot of issues that I stand for that I’m looking to support our athletes with when I’m in Sochi, but the reality right now is that I’ve been selected, and I’m going to do my best to support our athletes.”
Russian officials have said there will be no repercussions for subtle protests by athletes or fans such as wearing rainbow armbands during the Olympics.
“I think that very many people feel very strongly about this issue, and I think that there are going to be statements that are made,’’ Cahow said. “My main goal is to make sure that athletes and spectators stay safe, and that this is a peaceful Olympics and that everyone is able to really appreciate and take in the amazing qualities that the Olympics provide."
Cahow, a two-time Olympic medalist as part of the U.S. women’s hockey team, does not view the myriad political differences between the U.S. and Russia as a distraction.
“I think the Olympics are always going to have politics involved,’’ she said. “It’s really hard to divorce the two. What I would say is that, the great thing about the Olympics is that every two years, we get the opportunity not only to be inspired by amazing human achievement, but to hold the mirror up to our own faces and say, ‘What can we be doing better?’ Because we can be doing better.
“There’s inequality in the United States that still has nothing to do with LGBT rights. So I think the Olympics is a great opportunity to be inspired by amazing athletes and then come back home and get back to work."
Cahow’s appearance on TODAY came one day after family patriarch Phil Robertson of the hit A&E TV show “Duck Dynasty” was indefinitely suspended by the show because of anti-gay comments he made in a GQ interview that appears in the Dec. 24 issue.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed,’’ Cahow said about Robertson's comments. “Words that are negative in that way hurt everyone I think, and they reflect poorly on us as a society, but I do understand that there are changing winds in the United States and people are adapting and evolving, and I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. So I hope that some minds are changed through those statements, and I look forward to tomorrow when these classifications no longer exist."