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Former NBA Player John Amaechi Calls On Sochi Olympians To 'Use Podium As A Soap Box'

6a00d8341c730253ef0133f257b78c970b-300wiAmidst calls for boycotts, bans and a relocation of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, out former NBA player John Amaechi has written an open letter to Olympic athletes and National Olympic Committees urging them not to boycott and not to stand as silent witnesses to the atrocities being committed against LGBT Russians. Amaechi, who in 2012 criticized the IOC's "cowardice" for not standing up for LGBT rights, writes:

Reasonable people can argue whether your ‘job’ is to win medals, to ski, skate, shoot and whatever else you do better than anyone else in the world. But as a former athlete myself, I know that what we do in practice and competition is only one small part of of our job.  Many of you are icons in your respective sports, inspirational to a generation of young people who hang on your every tweet, ape your every action and follow your every suggestion.  As such, it is your responsibility - as much as the quest for gold - to show the world that you understand that sport, especially Olympic sport, IS intrinsically political.  It is your responsibility as you prepare to go to Sochi to publicly acknowledge that your games happen on the backs of the abuse of migrant workers, the threatening of environmental activists and journalists, the ‘disappearance’ of €25 billion and indeed, in the context of a country that is facilitating and then ignoring the torture of young gay boys and girls.

I’m not here to distract you from your previously singular purpose of representing yourself and your country in Sochi.  Rather, I want you to fulfil that obligation to it’s fullest.  I want you to embrace the supposed ‘Fundamental Principles of Olympism’ and in the IOC’s own words “ sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”

Amaechi also comments on Stephen Fry's recent remarks comparing Russia's persecution of gays to Nazi Germany's persecution of Jews:

You have may have heard Russian, British and other Olympic and public officials balk at Stephen Fry’s analogy of Russia’s anti-propaganda laws with Nazi Germany’s.  Normally, the internet revels in Godwin’s law where any argument ends up with one side calling the other a Nazi, but in this case, take a look for yourself at the 1935 Nuremberg laws and the eerie similarity with these laws designed to create an official smokescreen for the crude, stereotyping and scientifically disproven marginalization of certain minorities. Please do not be fooled by superficially charming men who defend the atrocities of regimes that have elevated them positions of power.  History is littered with such men and their obfuscation should not be compounded by our silent collaboration.

6a00d8341c730253ef019104a08a0a970c-250wiDespite the ambiguity as to whether displays of support for LGBT rights will be tolerated by the Russian Federation to say nothing of the IOC itself, Amaechi underscores his belief in the importance of standing up and speaking out against the persecution of gays in Russia, stating,

Just as history is littered with the powerful men I described earlier, it is equally strewn with other figures who could have made a stand and taken action to highlight and embolden the oppressed but instead chose not to... and to my mind, no amount of gold hung around a neck can outshine the shame of such a stain."

I understand the logical, principled stand behind a call for a boycott, but I see it as impractical, politically untenable and if attempted, at best, piecemeal.  I have also spoken to several key Russian activists who want the games to go ahead so that the athletes can compete, win and most importantly when they take those podiums - stand for something more than their personal and national glory.

Like Tommie Smith and John Carlos before you, you do not change the world by winning alone, but by using that podium as a soap box and in the 21st century the ways you can do that are wonderfully creative and varied, but don’t fool yourself into thinking, as one athlete I spoke to today, that winning in silence will show your support, that act is an abdication of the most important role any athlete can aspire to have - that of multidimensional exemplar to the world of sport and beyond [...]

Maybe you wish sports wasn’t political, maybe you think misguidedly that it isn’t, but whatever your thoughts, understand that the young people being tortured in Russia today will not know by telepathy that you abhor their treatment, the families of slain journalists will not not understand by looking into your tearful eyes on the podium that you support them and the world will not recognise that you stand for more than yourself unless you say or do something to make that clear at a time when the world is watching you.

You can read the letter in full HERE.

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  1. If the Games go ahead in Sochi, then any athlete who does not loudly and vocally condemn the Russian fascist laws, should be regarded as a collaborator with fascism, and deserve the loudesr condemnation possible.

    Johnny Weir's statement that his presence in Russia is enough should be regarded as the worthless excuse that it is.

    Posted by: MaryM | Aug 12, 2013 7:28:27 AM

  2. He's got some good points. What if a winner unfurled a rainbow flag or some other visible form of protest when receiving their medal? What if all Olympians joined together in support of gay rights et al? Can't throw the entire olympic village in jail, or can you? The olympic committee is not that great. Remember back when we organized the "Gay Olympics"? They sued and the name was changed to Gay Games. Didn't want the gay associated with olympics. Will NBC edit out any protest? it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

    Posted by: kodiak | Aug 12, 2013 7:31:10 AM

  3. Oops, a couple typos. Always distracts me.

    A good message, assuming that the intended recipients see it or have any idea who he or some of the people he cited are. It would be great to see a lot more of these from a string of athletes, well and less known, gay and straight, US and otherwise, in a large range of sports.

    Posted by: Paul R | Aug 12, 2013 7:39:58 AM

  4. To keep referring to this supposed grand act of defiance by the world's athletes against the Russian regime is ridiculous and a total cop out. Athletes are there to compete, not make politically unpopular statements - IOC specifically bans this. The fact is that the world has chosen to ignore the situation, and that's that. Putin has won.

    Posted by: tom | Aug 12, 2013 8:00:46 AM

  5. Thank you John.

    Posted by: JONES | Aug 12, 2013 8:21:39 AM

  6. Thank you John. Beautifully said!

    Posted by: Lee | Aug 12, 2013 8:49:32 AM

  7. His words were PERFECT and poignant. Shared it with all my facebook friends now (which consist of some 500 LGBT) and an overwhelming amount are saying this is the most effective manner to successfully make a statement during the games

    Posted by: Duration & Convexity | Aug 12, 2013 8:50:31 AM

  8. I love, love, love his ideas.

    Not only do they make a positive impact for the present moment, but go in the history books for future generations to hear and learn about.

    Posted by: USC Trojans Fan | Aug 12, 2013 8:51:10 AM

  9. I agree with John Amaechi (who has truly become an LGBT pioneer). You don't lose your convictions just because they become inconvenient to showcase. You stand tall, and stay true to who you are and what you believe in.

    Posted by: C.J | Aug 12, 2013 8:52:45 AM

  10. I know of one athlete who plans to do just that. And you'll hear about it too. I fully applaud it.

    Posted by: Veejay | Aug 12, 2013 8:53:13 AM

  11. Of course those who view LGBT activism as us being uppity and demanding we stand in the back of the line and act properly " or else"...will reject this act on the podium; but we can't listen to the detractors who have a special stake in us being complacent. Our LGBT founders generations ago didn't enable our freedoms by being apologetic and fearful. Being fearless leads to change.

    Posted by: Scott Landry | Aug 12, 2013 8:54:42 AM

  12. ::applause::

    Posted by: crispy | Aug 12, 2013 8:56:10 AM

  13. Tom - you say: "Athletes are there to compete, not make politically unpopular statements"

    So they are collaborators with fascism is what you are saying.

    If this elite group of ultra-privileged sportspeople regard their 'right' to win a medal as being more important than the basci human rights of millions of Russian citizens then they deserve every condemnation under the sun.

    Posted by: MaryM | Aug 12, 2013 8:57:11 AM

  14. The momentum and press and general dialogue in discussing the homophobia in Russia as a result of these games has been so powerful, prominent and fast growing that I'm incredibly inspired. All my coworkers who aren't much into current events heard of it and were appalled what goes on in Russia. LGBT are really doing a phenomenal job with this.

    Posted by: Lightbohienes | Aug 12, 2013 8:57:29 AM

  15. I agree with him 100%

    Posted by: TX Dave | Aug 12, 2013 8:57:51 AM

  16. He's a media ho....he told athletes not to come out..Is he following the activist money?

    Posted by: Alan Brickman | Aug 12, 2013 8:59:01 AM

  17. Any athlete that does not protest this hideous Russian law must be regarded as a collaborator with fascism, and condemned as such.

    Posted by: MaryM | Aug 12, 2013 8:59:20 AM

  18. I love his quote above, it's sensible, and doesn't demand all athletes to do it, but those who feel it in their hearts and I think it has amazing potential to make people stop and think.

    Posted by: Yolo | Aug 12, 2013 9:06:28 AM

  19. I love how LGBT have to justify why we stand up for our human rights. Other groups being persecuted are never cornered to justify "hey, why are you passionate?" meanwhile, we're stoned to death, burned alive, rounded up and beat by gangs in many parts of the world and the government encourage said violence, yet when we rise up and speak's us being uppity? F-CK YOU to anyone who even flirts with that notion.

    I will always devote part of my life to speak on the humanity of LGBT and the lack of human and civil rights we have in many parts of the world. And will never apologize for that.

    Posted by: Gator Song | Aug 12, 2013 9:09:52 AM

  20. In history, the best social movements made strides by people being counted and being bold. I will truly cherish those LGBT athletes who use their platform for a bigger cause. One bigger than them or a piece of gold. I don't demand they do, but simply hope.

    Posted by: Dean | Aug 12, 2013 9:28:42 AM

  21. Isn't John Amaechi a coward who waited until he was retired before leaving the closet?

    Posted by: Brian | Aug 12, 2013 9:33:37 AM

  22. Brian: It's obvious that with people like you, nobody can act right.
    What you say it's exactly the same that saying that Jason Collins is a coward because he came out when his career is practically over.

    Everyone has the right to come out when they are prepared. Justin Fasnau came out very young and he wasn't ready to the backlash, and everybody knows what happened next

    Posted by: jjose712 | Aug 12, 2013 10:00:59 AM

  23. Loved this piece he wrote. Wonderful. Thank you.

    Posted by: Charlie | Aug 12, 2013 10:03:58 AM

  24. I have so much respect for this man. Just loved his book! I agree with him 100%.

    Posted by: Tom | Aug 12, 2013 10:04:44 AM

  25. I honestly think it in not a question of will the athletes take a stand, but one of who will do it first.

    Multiple displays of LGBT support followed by Russian authorities reaction, followed by athletes response to how the Russians react could be a major distraction at the games.

    Will the IOC threaten to send athletes home if they cause trouble? again, another major distraction.

    The games themselves could take a back seat to the drama. Should be very interesting to watch.

    Posted by: Dearcomrade | Aug 12, 2013 10:11:24 AM

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