The President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Dr. Jill Biden will not be making the trip to Sochi.
Instead, the President is sending a delegation that includes tennis great and equality advocate Billie Jean King. The decision is being hailed as a clear message to Russian President Vladimir Putin of America’s continued disagreement with Russia’s anti-LGBT policies and human rights concerns. The President underscored that message by appointing an American delegation that includes no members of the President’s cabinet for the first time in over 20 years.
The delegation for the opening ceremonies will be led by former Department of Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano and include U.S. Ambassador Michael A. McFaul, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Robert L. Nabors, Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano and King.
The delegation for the closing ceremonies will be led by Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns, and include McFaul, five-time Olympic gold medalist Bonnie Blair, two-time Olympic medalist Caitlin Cahow, and five-time Olympic gold medalist Eric Heiden. In addition to King, Cahow is also an out member of the LGBT community
In an interview with USA Today a few months ago, King expressed her hope that the athletes would speak out against Russia’s anti-LGBT policies. “I think there’s watershed moments, benchmarks,” King said. “I would hope the majority of the athletes would speak out. It’s a great platform.”
In an interview published earlier this week in The New York Times, Maria Sharapova, who will serve as an NBC correspondent during the Olympics, spoke out against the controversial laws, which ban “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships”.
“I think what needs to be addressed will ultimately be addressed,” Sharapova said when asked for her thoughts on the law. “I think time will address this issue. It will. I’m proud of being Russian, because I believe in the true core of its history and the culture, and that’s where I grew up, and I feel very proud to be from there. But never have I said that every individual there is perfect or every law is right.”