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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. 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.

    Posted by: Randy | Jul 25, 2013 7:22:16 PM

  2. 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.

    Posted by: Ty | Jul 25, 2013 9:05:13 PM

  3. "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?

    Posted by: Skooter McGoo | Jul 25, 2013 9:38:48 PM

  4. 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...

    Posted by: Gary | Jul 25, 2013 10:42:13 PM

  5. 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.

    Posted by: andrew | Jul 25, 2013 11:49:16 PM

  6. 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.

    Posted by: emjayay | Jul 26, 2013 2:08:16 AM

  7. Put pressure on CTV, TSN and all of Bell Media's properties here in Canada.

    I just sent an email to as they are the lead for the Sochi Olympics. I call on other Canadians to do so too!

    Posted by: Joe | Jul 26, 2013 4:02:08 PM

  8. 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...

    Posted by: Andrew Agee | Jul 26, 2013 4:41:16 PM

  9. @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?

    Posted by: Andrew Agee | Jul 26, 2013 4:58:20 PM

  10. You deserve a gold medal for hysteria Andrew. It's Trevon this month. Get with the program.

    Posted by: Gary | Jul 26, 2013 5:21:23 PM

  11. I did not watch the Olympics the last time they were in Russia, and I will not watch the Olympics this time, either.

    Posted by: Jerry6 | Jul 27, 2013 3:55:49 PM

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