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


  1. franklin says

    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.

  2. David says

    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.

  3. mitch says

    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.

  4. Cameron says

    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.

  5. Cameron says

    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.

  6. JonnyNYNY2FLFL says

    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.

  7. tom says

    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?

  8. Edd says

    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…

  9. anon says

    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.

  10. Rexford says

    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.

  11. peterparker says

    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.

  12. RK says

    @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!

  13. MAP says

    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.

  14. Foodie Panda says

    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….

  15. DannyEastVillage says

    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.

  16. disgusted American says

    …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

  17. Kevin says

    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.

  18. Ryan says

    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.

  19. ripper says

    “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.

  20. Randy says

    In Canada, the official broadcaster for the Sochi Olympics is CBC, Canada’s publicly-funded broadcaster.

    As far as I know, they’ve made no statement about the suppression of LGBT people in Russia, relating to their broadcast.

  21. says

    What about McDonald’s and Coca-Cola? They are huge sponsors of the Olympics… For Sochi to pay any attention to it, or the USOC or the IOC to pay attention, cut the funds… don’t go for NBC, get Coke and McDonald’s and other US-Organinazational partners to drop funding.

  22. Skooter McGoo says

    “There’s a big skunk at the garden party that can’t be ignored.” My grand mother used to say that. Truth is truth. why is that so hard?

  23. Gary says

    Come on! Don’t let the queers ruin the Olympics. What did the 1980 boycott accomplish? The Zimmerman trial has already stole the spotlight from gay marriage this summer. Now our wonderful President has confessed that he “is” Trevon. Don’t make us the ones who ruined the Olympics. Let’s count our blessings and avoid the bashings. This summer belongs to Black Civil Rights, sorry girls…

  24. andrew says

    The U.S. should NOT boycott the 2014 Olympics in Russia. That only deprives our American Athletes of their chances at Olympic glory. The only thing accomplished by the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics was depriving American Athletes, who had been practicing for four years, of the joy of participating and possible victories. Creative people should be able to come up with lots of ways to spotlight Russia’s horrible human rights record.

  25. emjayay says

    After training for years and years, an athlete only has a certain window of time to be in the Olympics. They should and will go. I don’t think the Olympics would allow anyone wearing anything other than the official stuff. But there is nothing to stop someone – even a straight person wanting to make the point – on the medal winner stand from pulling out a silk rainbow flag or whatever way they can make a visual statement like black athletes famously did at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. And maybe some other stuff outside the main events. I’m sure some are talking about doing something.

    And meanwhile, don’t buy the only Russian product anyone can think of that is available to consumers (we don’t buy that many tons of magnesium or hire rockets to take stuff to the space station for example), Stoly and other Russian vodka.

  26. Andrew Agee says

    Where you want it to hurt is at the top, and the best way to hurt them is to scare/humiliate/ridicule them. The 2014 games is their 50 Billion dollar baby. If you want Russia to feel some pain, go after the sponsors of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

    Let’s start with the historic ones: Coke, McDonalds and NBC (or whoever is broadcasting the games in your country) Hit the Boycott Sochi 2014 FB page for more information.

    And if you need some extra ammo…


  27. Andrew Agee says

    @emjayay Seriously, you are going to put, of all things, sports ahead of people’s LIVES? Dear god, it’s 15 minutes of fame vs people getting imprisoned, assaulted, tortured and murdered.

    As for the mention of the 1936 games, I ask you thins: if we knew that Hitler was going to murder 6,000,000 Jews, would we have still gone? Putin has clearly stated what’s going to happen, how is this different?

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