Gay athletes named to Olympic delegation to Sochi
By Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News
(NBC) - In an apparent snub to President Vladimir Putin over recent anti-gay legislation passed in Russia, the White House delegation to the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi includes Billie Jean King and another openly gay athlete — and no high-level American officials.
It is a sharp departure from recent Olympics. Michelle Obama led the U.S. delegation to the London Games last year, and Vice President Joe Biden went to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010.
President George W. Bush and then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice led the U.S. delegation to Beijing in 2008, and first lady Laura Bush led the delegation to the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.
Besides King, the tennis legend, the U.S. delegation to the opening and closing ceremonies in Sochi, the Russian resort hosting the games, will include Caitlin Cahow, an openly gay two-time Olympic hockey medalist.
In a statement, King said, "I can't wait to get to Russia to support the American team and to be part of one of the greatest global events of our time. I am equally proud to stand with the members of the LGBT community in support of all athletes who will be competing in Sochi and I hope these Olympic Games will indeed be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people."
Russia passed a law last year banning "homosexual propaganda" and made it illegal to "spread information about non-traditional sexual behavior" to people under age 18. Foreigners are subject to fines and can be deported.
Shawn Gaylord, advocacy counsel for the organization Human Rights First, told MSNBC on Wednesday that his group was thrilled to hear about the delegation.
"I think that was done intentionally, done to send a message of equality and respect," he said. "And I think this delegation will be able to show what it's like to be integrated into society, to be leaders in society."
The U.S. delegation includes Janet Napolitano, the former Homeland Security secretary and current president of the University of California. Michael McFaul, the American ambassador to Russia, is also in the group.
Robert L. Nabors, the White House's deputy chief of staff for policy, is the highest-ranking public official on the list.
The United States is also sending Olympic speedskating champions Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden and 1988 figure skating champion Brian Boitano.
The delegation "represents the diversity that is the United States," White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement. "All our delegation members are distinguished by their accomplishments in government service, civic activism, and sports.
"We are proud of each and every one of them and think they will serve as great ambassadors of the United States to the Olympic Games."
The Sochi Olympics open Feb. 7.