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NBC Olympics Coverage Facing Controversy Over Russian Anti-Gay Laws

SOchi OlympicsRussia's newly-adopted anti-gay laws are already the subject of worldwide controversy. The laws have already been used to justify police brutality against Russian LGBT activists, as well as the imprisonment of advocates from inside their borders and beyond. LGBT advocates have called for the boycott of many Russian goods as a result. Many others have turned their sights to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, which will be taking place in the Russian city of Sochi. 

The International Olympic Committee has already told press that it will "work to ensure" that LGBT athletes from around the globe will be able to compete freely in the games without fear of any legal trouble. Many LGBT athletes have expressed their apprehension anyway. Other athletes and advocates have called for a boycott of the games by the United States and the IOC, including the likes of Harvey Fierstein and Dan Savage. 

Sochi-mapAll of this controversy is creating headaches for NBC Universal, who will be broadcasting across the U.S. and beyond. Comcast forked over $4.38 billion to secure that privilege through 2020. As a result, many advocates are turning their sights in NBC's direction, such as HRC President Chad Griffin, who wrote a letter to NBC Universal CEO Stephen Burke saying that the network has a "responsibility to expose" the atrocities committed by Russia towards LGBT people. According to Buzzfeed, HRC hasn't yet taken a formal position on a potential boycott. Rather, Griffin states that...

"NBCUniversal … has a unique opportunity — and a responsibility — to expose this inhumane and unjust law to the millions of American viewers who will tune in to watch the Games."

He also added:

"You no doubt agree that it wouldn’t be right to air the opening ceremonies, which is an hours-long advertisement for the host country, without acknowledging that a whole segment of the Russian population — not to mention foreign athletes and visitors — can be jailed for an immutable aspect of their identity." 

NBC Sochi OlympicsNeither NBC nor Comcast have issued any comments on the Sochi Olympics controversy. As it stands, NBC Universal currently scores a perfect 100 on the HRC's annual "Corporate Equality Index", which grades various companies on their commitment to equality on a scale of 0 to 100. As was noted by Griffin in his letter, that perfect score could potentially be at risk should NBC choose to sweep this issue under the rug.

Should NBC eventually decide to boycott the games, as was noted by Variety, it would not be a first. 

"The mere mention of a boycott evokes memories of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, which the United States boycotted in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. NBC had paid $85 million for the rights but cancelled its live coverage."

Variety also pointed out that there was no boycott of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, which took place under the watch of the Hitler regime. Similar controversy also surrounded the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, which even resulted in the resignation of Steven Spielberg as a creative consultant. As was noted by Harvey Fierstein in his recent New York Times op-ed, "There is a price for tolerating intolerance." Chad Griffin echoed this sentiment to Variety, saying that “there is a skunk at the garden party that can’t be ignored.”

Read Griffin's full letter to NBC HERE...

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  1. Gay rights groups in the US need to get off the fence and call for a boycott. This is the most serious human rights issue affecting gays and lesbians in the world, and we are turning our backs on our brothers and sisters in Russia.

    Posted by: franklin | Jul 25, 2013 4:08:52 PM

  2. Boycotts do little to hurt the host nation and deny athletes who have been training for years the chance to compete on a world stage. A better idea would be for nations to show up at the Olympics opening ceremonies with rainbow flags in hand in support of LGBT people and, if a gay athlete wins a medal, to proudly show the world who they are. Invisibility will not help the cause.

    Posted by: David | Jul 25, 2013 4:18:13 PM

  3. Don't boycott the games. Stage numerous protests instead while on camera. Maybe the athletes could voluntarily wear rainbow arm bands.

    Posted by: MarcosLB | Jul 25, 2013 4:23:26 PM

  4. Money talks. I think a threat of boycott is a good idea but I agree with David. Do not deny our gay and lesbian and straight friends the opportunity to compete in the Olympics.

    Posted by: mitch | Jul 25, 2013 4:30:45 PM

  5. Boycott is the exact opposite response we should have. We should be encouraging athletes to go and compete and represent their LGBT community and get their teammates to do so as well. All it takes is a rainbow flag and some visibility to get the outside world (and perhaps some russians) to question what's going on Russia.

    Posted by: Cameron | Jul 25, 2013 4:32:31 PM

  6. Boycott is the exact opposite response we should have. We should be encouraging athletes to go and compete and represent their LGBT community and get their teammates to do so as well. All it takes is a rainbow flag and some visibility to get the outside world (and perhaps some russians) to question what's going on Russia.

    Posted by: Cameron | Jul 25, 2013 4:32:31 PM

  7. Chad Griffin is right !
    Great to see HRC shining a light on the Putin/Russian hate machine

    Posted by: Gilbert | Jul 25, 2013 4:41:04 PM

  8. An Olympics boycott makes no sense. On the contrary, a worldwide audience of billions is a golden opportunity to expose Russian human rights violations.

    Our allies, who are sportsmen, sponsors, & statesmen, will have an enomous platform to shine a light on an issue that I dare say is probably not well known outside of our own community.

    We couldn't ask for a better way to rally pressure against Putin in his own backyard where he can quash any domestic protest at will.

    Posted by: JonnyNYNY2FLFL | Jul 25, 2013 4:44:48 PM

  9. It is false that boycotts do not hurt the home country. It will force the world to acknowledge the atrocities that are happening, just as it did in 1980. Why give Putin a platform to further his war on gays?

    Posted by: tom | Jul 25, 2013 4:46:28 PM

  10. What have NBC Universal and Comcast ever done for gay rights at the marketing /media exposure levels? Nothing as far as I can tell.

    Posted by: Adam | Jul 25, 2013 4:51:15 PM

  11. NBC may have to pull out of broadcasting the games from Russia. The NBC logo has the colors of the rainbow in it; not in the correct order, but...

    Posted by: Edd | Jul 25, 2013 4:53:13 PM

  12. It's a tad uneven that we're worried about gay rights in Russia but not the fact that Putin jails his political opponents regardless of their orientation. The fact Russia was awarded the games at all is a slap in the face of human rights.

    Athletes are barred by the Olympic committee from staging political protests. They would be kicked out of the games faster than you could say 'nyet' for wearing armbands.

    Posted by: anon | Jul 25, 2013 5:05:50 PM

  13. There may be "a skunk at the garden party," but if you don't show up at the party, then you can't shine a light on the animal and expose it.

    Posted by: Rexford | Jul 25, 2013 5:23:09 PM

  14. Instead of calling for boycotts, leaders of LGBT rights organizations around the world should be working with athletes around the world--especially those who are likely to win medals--to encourage them to show some sign of solidarity with the GLBT community when they are on the podium receiving their medals. *That* would be far more embarrassing to Russia, would do much more to shine a light on their human rights abuses, and would show youth around the world that they are not alone.

    Posted by: peterparker | Jul 25, 2013 5:29:05 PM

  15. @Franklin. I agree completely. The major LGBT advocacy groups in the Western World need to unite against this form of genocide now in effect in Russia. Also, LGBT people need to reach to the Western sponsors of the games such as Volkswagen and others and put pressure on them. The violence against our brothers and sister is escalating Go Joe.My.God website and see the violence taking place there. Also, Puckin (Putin) is going to introduce a new law where children of LGBT parents will be taken away from them. There has to be some kind of uprising by the LGBT population in the western world or this can happen to us!

    Posted by: RK | Jul 25, 2013 5:31:45 PM

  16. Boycott the Russian games. And donate $ to the Human Rights Campaign -- they're always fighting for us.

    Posted by: Richard | Jul 25, 2013 5:33:02 PM

  17. @Peterparker -

    I agree. And one thing they could do right now is is try to get FIA (Formula 1 Auto Rracing) to pull out of Russia altogether. Right now they look to be hosting a 2014 race at a new track - coincidentally in Sochi - for a Russian Grand Prix. It sounds like it's not too late to pull the plug.

    Posted by: Rexford | Jul 25, 2013 5:46:07 PM

  18. Why hurt all the gay athletes who will attend???? Typical controls queens with their boycotts of everything!!...

    Posted by: Alan Brickman | Jul 25, 2013 6:10:34 PM

  19. Do you remember the NO H8 duct tape across the mouth campaign ?..Athelete's AND spectators should place a piece of rainbow flag tape across their mouths.

    Posted by: MAP | Jul 25, 2013 6:11:53 PM

  20. We should let the games go on. However, we should encourage our allies to boycott buying anything Russian, traveling into Russia, ask NBC to only provide footage of the competition and on the athletes with no promoting of Russia, it's history, it's culture... Besides, the best way to hurt Russia is in its pocketbooks. $$ will always talk....

    Posted by: Foodie Panda | Jul 25, 2013 6:12:31 PM

  21. as to Alan Brickman, I'm willing to bet that if he has any gay friends, they're the self-hating type; or, more likely, he hasn't any friends at all, but everyone he knows crosses the street when they see him coming.

    Posted by: DannyEastVillage | Jul 25, 2013 6:32:06 PM

  22. ...anyone who hasn't seen it - needs to go to JOE MY GOD's site ,and chk out the article about persecution of LGBT teens/people....its striking similar to 1930's Germany's early days

    Posted by: disgusted American | Jul 25, 2013 6:40:59 PM

  23. On a side note,this should help do away with the undeserved lovefest Russia got when they "tried" to warn the U.S. about the two Boston bombers.

    Posted by: Kevin | Jul 25, 2013 6:57:36 PM

  24. I will accept a non-boycott if -- and only if -- NBC takes a huge stand and literally eviscerates the Russian government over this issue, showing bloody image after bloody image and dedicated at least an hour long prime-time segment on the bigotry of Putin's government, as well as periodic updates each night, continuing the story, covering LGBT athletes and making sure they're safe and free to go around draped in rainbow flags if they want to.

    If NBC made this an opportunity to level world-wide criticism against Russia, then maybe it would be okay.

    I have my doubts that would happen -- a boycott would be more likely and my second choice.

    Posted by: Ryan | Jul 25, 2013 7:05:32 PM

  25. "its striking similar to 1930's Germany's early days"

    Yup, and the most memorable moment of the 1936 Berlin Olympics is Jesse Owens winning 4 gold medals including the 100-m sprint while Hitler watched. We should do exactly that... go to the Olympics, and out LGBT athletes should win as many medals as possible.

    Posted by: ripper | Jul 25, 2013 7:13:02 PM

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