American Runner Criticizes Anti-Gay Laws While On Russian Soil

U.S. Runner Nick Symmonds made headlines yesterday by winning the silver medal of the Men's 800-meter at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championship in Moscow. Thankfully, that's not the only reason why the Oregon native is making headlines. Symmonds also used his moment in the spotlight as an opportunity to speak our against anti-gay laws adopted by the Russian government. He told RiaNovosti

"As much as I can speak out about it, I believe that all humans deserve equality as however God made them. Whether you’re gay, straight, black, white, we all deserve the same rights. If there’s anything I can do to champion the cause and further it, I will, shy of getting arrested."

He also dedicated his silver medal to all of his gay friends.

Unfortunately, according to the Russian government, comments such as those would be all that's needed to throw an athlete like Symmonds out of the country or in prison. This might explain why Symmonds softened his language a bit later on in the interview, saying that “I respect Russians’ ability to govern their people…I disagree with their laws. I do have respect for this nation. I disagree with their rules.” Nonetheless, RiaNovosti is reporting that Symmonds is the first athlete to publicly criticize Vladimir Putin's anti-gay propaganda laws while on Russian soil.

Symmonds' comments come even after he wrote an opinion piece for Runner's World claiming that he would not discuss the issue of LGBT rights while in Russia. 

“I say this not out of fear of prosecution by the Russian government, but out of respect for the fact that I will be a guest in the host nation. Just as I would not accept a dinner invite to a friend’s house and then lecture them on how to raise their kids, neither will I lecture the Russian government on how to govern their people.”

All_Out_Athlete_Ally_insert_2_courtesy_All_OutLuckily, it seems as though his conscience and/or passion for advocacy got the better of him. As of right now, no member of the Russian governement has issued a public statement addressing Symmonds' comments or whether they will invite any sort of punitive action. Nevertheless, one athlete has already broken their silence. Given the fact that many, including President Barack Obama, oppose a boycott of Russian sporting events, Symmonds will likely not be the last American athlete to address Russia's instituational homophobia while inside its borders. Eyes are already on the Russian government to see how they will respond.


  1. borut says

    “Just as I would not accept a dinner invite to a friend’s house and then lecture them on how to raise their kids, neither will I lecture the Russian government on how to govern their people.”

    I couldn’t sit down for a meal at a friend’s house and watch them abuse their children.

  2. EO says

    “Just as I would not accept a dinner invite to a friend’s house and then lecture them on how to raise their kids, neither will I lecture the Russian government on how to govern their people.”

    Riiiight. But if they were doing something harmful to their kids I’d be damn sure to call Child Protective Services!

  3. Jeff says

    Stmmonds says: “If there’s anything I can do to champion the cause and further it, I will, shy of getting arrested.”

    Well, yes, of course, if standing up for what’s right will inconvience you in any way…

    Social activism at its finest. Sheesh.

  4. chuck says

    It’s not all that needs to be said, but I give him credit for the attempt. I’m sure he is scared. Who wouldn’t be with so much hanging in the balance…for him and for all gay people in Russia.
    Future endorsements are sure to come to those athletes who can find the courage and the voice to speak out. This is a good start.

  5. MaryM says

    Good for him.

    And let this be a warning to other so called allies – if you compete in fascist Russia and do not use the opportunity to criticise Russian fascism; then you are collaborating and oolluding in human rights abuses.

    Athletes who compete in that hideous country need to understand quite clearly that their ‘right’ to win a medal for being Good At Sport pales into utter insignificance compared to the human rights of the 10,000,000 LGBT Russians facing genocide.

  6. Francis #1 says

    No, he didn’t do anything really big. But at least he said SOMETHING. Considering that IOC is on Russia’s side more or less and that other straight athletes have been absent, the fact Nick said anything at all is appreciated. It would have been nice if he really went there and really took a big stand but he was undoubtedly scared for his well-being.

    I doubt this will lead to his arrest. It’s going to take more a more direct criticism and it’s going to take a visual protest for that to happen. Regardless, thank you Nick Symmonds for speaking out. Good for him. He’s someone that has a good heart.

  7. says

    I am in wholehearted agreement:
    Silence= Bullying Harassment Discrimination and Beating Up and even Death for gays in Russia.
    No more silence;especially from any athlete, gay or straight, who believes in equality.
    Nick Symmonds has taken a first step.

  8. Michaelandfred says

    Than you Nick. He could have done the easy thing and stayed silent, or just made a gesture like wearing a pin that may or may not have even been noticed. Instead he gave his thoughts, and dedication, on a Russian chanel without knowing if there actually might be consequences. I hope more follow. If a whole host of athletes started speaking up Russia would be forced to create an incident by arresting athletes and geopordizing the Olympics, or do nothing and show this to be a useless law.

    Win win.

  9. calcifer says

    I think it took courage even if it ended up a bit of a balancing act. Thank you Nick, because you could have stayed silent and didn’t. More of this, lots more, BEFORE the Olympics, to bring out a reaction or lack thereof.

  10. terry says

    Silence gives consent. Symmonds should have stood by his original comment and even gone further by flat out saying wrong is wrong. Like the Russian people he has been silenced by fear. How will people of conscience be treated during the games? We had a chance to find out but fear won, Symmonds came in second.

  11. Michael says

    Sorry, his actions don’t cut it. Either he condemns the violent discrimination or he does not. Either he “respects” the host country or not. It isn’t worth a sou for him to back off his criticism. I understand he doesn’t want to go to jail, particularly in Russia. However, he only encourages the “home rule” of the Russian Orthodox Church. Once more, an organized religion takes the lead.

  12. jomicur says

    “I say this not out of fear of prosecution by the Russian government, but out of respect for the fact that I will be a guest in the host nation.” So if he was having diner at someone’s house and saw his host beating his children, he wouldn’t speak up about it, right?

  13. Eric Gonzalez says

    I’d like to see some of you sanctimonious blow yards giving Symmonds sh** for not doing enough ( in your minds) get on a plane, fly to Russia and put your money where your mouth is.

  14. says

    Speaking out on Russian soil (even with the qualifiers) is a big step forward from his blog post advocating silence and politeness (while the thug parents in your friend’s house beat their kids), so kudos to Nick for speaking out. He’s learned something while setting an example.

  15. Zlick says

    Heheh, I wonder if he set himself for moderate success by proclaiming a more cowardly stance on his blog. I will happily grant him the benefit of the doubt, however, and be happy he somewhat came to his senses and awareness of priorities.

  16. Bill says

    @Zlick: it is probably a question of context. On his blog, he was probably thinking of making a statement at a race or after winning a medal. When interviewed, he simply said he believed in equality for everyone and expressed support for his gay friends. The Russians would look ridiculous if they arrested him for that and they probably know it. He wasn’t handing out fliers or participating in some demonstration, or even actively lobbying for the repeal of a Russian law.

    If they do arrest him, they’ll look as silly as the Nazis in the original version of “To be or not to be” ( , unfortunately with an sound overlay for a translation into another language).

  17. andrew says

    Nick you are a stand up guy, a courageous young man and a good friend of LGBT people. Ignore the armchair militants who post here while sitting in the safety of their homes thousands of miles from any possible danger. Continue to do what you think is right. Your heart is in the right place and your words and actions commendable.

  18. Buckie says

    Like it or not, he’s done more than the posters here will EVER do.

    Maybe that’s why so many bitchy little queens are so critical of him.

    He’s risking losing everything he’s worked for. What have YOU risked ?

    Pure, unadulterated, jealousy.

  19. BillyBob says

    “I couldn’t sit down for a meal at a friend’s house and watch them abuse their children.”

    You need to be able to sit-down at the same table first, if you want to make a difference.

    Hiding in dark bars worked real great for us for decades, now, didn’t it ?

  20. gomez says

    we all criticized him, rightly, before for his previous statement of compliance with russia’s “anti propaganda” law, but it seems he’s changed his tune, and he gets props for that. this was brave, thank you,Nick.

    i still think the “no h8″ campaign is an empty nonsensical promotion project for both subject and photographer, and wish towleroad and others wouldn’t reflexively promote it

  21. andrew says

    @GOMEZ: “we all criticized him” No WE DID NOT! His comments then and now show that his heart has always been in the right place. Some of you armchair militants criticized him, because he didn’t express his pro LGBT views exactly the way you thought police believe they should have been expressed. Nick is a stand up guy and a courageous young man who publicly supports LGBT equality even when in Moscow. You and I support LGBT equality in the safety of our homes thousands of miles away from any possible negative consequences. Go NICK!!!

  22. Francis #1 says

    Nick wants to say more but said in a different interview that he can’t, because he would be arrested. It’s a balancing act for him, where he wants to really speak out but has basically been muffled by Russia’s laws. So, let’s not place the blame on him for being a bit timid. He’s scared. He doesn’t want to be imprisoned. He spoke out, even being scared. That’s what an ally does. He’s courageous at the very least.

    None of us are in Russia and we’re not in the position to criticize Nick. Yes, he could have done or said more. But anything is better than nothing. He’s on our side.

  23. BooBoo says

    I wouldn’t wish being locked-up in a Russian jail on anyone, much less a gay man.

    I’m really disappointed in the remarks, past and present, demanding everyone ELSE make profound sacrifices, and the constant criticism of those who actually do risk their careers and well-being.

    Then again, there’s really no way to know if people posting that crap here are even gay.

    The internet is full of paid shills for special interests groups, so everything here I take with a big bag of rock salt !

    On the other hand, we’ve had enough “activists” in the community over the years that said and did things that harmed us all. This type of forum is great for people who are basically mentally ill to try and exert some sort of influence they neither deserve nor understand.

Leave A Reply