Legendary lesbian and noted tennis ace Billie Jean King will be one of two openly gay delegates representing the U.S. at the Sochi Olympics, which may easily be interpreted as some Olympic shade against virulently anti-gay Russia.
An old friend of the Commander-in-Chief, King received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have all declined to attend the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, marking the first time since 2000 that the prez, First Lady, VP or a former prez won’t be involved.
Among other world leaders not attending the Olympics this year are French President Francoise Hollande and German President Joachim Gauck.
In a statement, the White House claims Obama doesn’t have the time to travel to Sochi, but that the delegation “represents the diversity that is the United States.”
Openly gay two-time Olympic medalist in ice hockey Caitlin Cahow will also be a part of the delegation, as will former Olympic figure skater and famed grizzly bear fighter Brian Boitano.
Boitano, who has skated around discussing his personal life, offered his thoughts on NBA player Jason Collins’s coming-out earlier this year. “It seems like it’s been a freeing thing for him,” Boitano told NBC’s Off the Cuff. “You know what, everybody’s got their own path, and everybody has to do what they have to do.”
Meanwhile, King, winner of 12 Grand Slam titles though never an Olympian, became the first prominent openly gay female professional athlete after she was infamously outed in 1981. An advocate for LGBT rights, King has been observing Russia and its anti-gay propaganda law, which has been a source of controversy in the lead-up to the Games.
The 70-year-old laments not being “21 again and in the Olympics” herself, but hopes athletes will follow the examples of John Carlos and Tommie Smith, who defiantly raised their fists in protest of racial discrimination at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
“I think there’s watershed moments, benchmarks,” King said back in September. “I would hope the majority of the athletes would speak out. It’s a great platform.”
What USA Today calls perhaps “the most significant delegation the United States has ever sent to an Olympic Games” will also include former Homeland Security secretary and current University of California President Janet Napolitano; U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul; White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors; Deputy Secretary of State William Burns; and speed skating Olympic medalists Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden.