On the first day of the U.S. Olympic Media summit in Park City, Utah, reporters were curious to know what athletes thought of the controversial anti-gay legislation in Russia, which prohibits public displays of support for homosexuality. Not surprisingly, most athletes punted away questions.
“I’m not there to make a difference,” said figure skater Agnes Zawadzki. “I want to focus on myself and what I have to do to compete well at the Olympics.” The U.S. Olympic Committee gave athletes clear talking points on how duck the issue: we defer comment to the USOC, we’re focused on our sports, etc.
There was a very notable exception: Bode Miller, the Olympic gold medalist and most successful American ski racer of all-time. Miller, a veteran non-conformist, is giving the Olympics one more shot at the age of 36.
“I think it’s absolutely embarrassing that there’s countries, there’s people, that are intolerant, that are ignorant,” Miller said. The International Olympic Committee’s rules prohibits athletes from making political demonstrations at Games sites.
Miller went right to the heart of the IOC’s duplicity: the Olympics preach inclusion of all countries and people, but don’t let athletes speak out against a discriminatory law.
“There are politics in sports and athletics, and they’re always intertwined,” Miller said. “Even though people try to keep them separate, or try to act like they’re separate, I think asking athletes to go somewhere and compete and be a representative of a philosophy and all that different crap that kind of goes along with it, and then tell them they can’t express their views or they can’t say what they believe, I think is pretty hypocritical and unfair. But, you know the fact is, crappy situations like that have been happening for a long time.”
Earlier, figure skater Ashley Wagner said she’s against the law but fears that being loudly opposed to it can become a distraction. “I think it’s a shame we don’t have more athletes speaking out about it,” Wagner said.
Miller had no similar qualms.
“My main emotion when I hear and deal with situations like that is embarrassment,” Miller added. “As a human being, I think it’s embarrassing.”