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 “…place 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.


  1. MaryM says

    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.

  2. kodiak says

    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.

  3. Paul R says

    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.

  4. tom says

    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.

  5. Duration & Convexity says

    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

  6. USC Trojans Fan says

    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.

  7. C.J says

    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.

  8. Scott Landry says

    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.

  9. MaryM says

    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.

  10. Lightbohienes says

    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.

  11. Yolo says

    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.

  12. Gator Song says

    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 up…’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.

  13. Dean says

    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.

  14. jjose712 says

    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

  15. Dearcomrade says

    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.

  16. says


    JONES ‏@JONES85102300

    History shows not only those that stand against persecution but also those that stand silently by. Demand Russia protect it’s LGBT citizens.

    Retweet. Send thru infosphere.

  17. Robert says

    The Olympics WILL be in Sochi. End of story. And the bigger fuss the Olympians make, the more attention NBC (and other broadcasters around the world) will have to give the issue. THAT is what will help. A boycott will do nothing.

  18. Frank says

    So the man who stayed in the closet to protect his paycheck and so he wouldn’t be called a sissy in the locker room is requesting others go to a foreign country and put their lives and careers on the line. Stay in the closet if you are a pro athlete and there are millions at stake (as he has recommended pro athletes do) but if you are only an Olympic athlete, most of you won’t be making much after the Olympics so you can be our voice. Will Mr. Amaechi be in Sochi with his rainbow flag? Why wait until February to do something, go over today and protest now. You can’t sit around and ask others to fight, you have to go and be in the crowd and fight.

  19. robert says

    tommie smith and john carlos have always been men I’ve admired. Athletes could hardly ask for more courageous role models who exemplify the Olympian creed. I imagine many don’t know who these two fine individuals are so it wouldn’t hurt any of us to at least google their names.


  20. Bill says

    A letter in one of our local newspapers (they don’t post these on the Internet, at least not free of charge), stated, “Instead of boycotting the 2014 Sochi Olympics over Russia’s new anti-gay law, the entire USA team could just walk in holding hands.”

    Imagine if other countries did the same thing – it would make a joke of Russia’s law, and they can’t arrest everyone even if they want to without shutting down the whole event and making themselves an international pariah.

  21. Will says

    Since a boycott is probably not going to happen, defiance on the worlds stage is the next best thing. I agree that ALL participants take a position, from all countries, but I am sure that any efforts here will all be downplayed by NBC and the Russian authorities.

    The real test will be on the ground and in the stands.

    What will the IOC do when the first spectator or visitor is beaten fined or even killed because they too took a stand against this barbaric russian law. Will we even know about it?

    How will the IOC and the russian authorities justify it then?

    This is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

  22. Beth says

    Comparing what’s going on in Russia to what happened in Germany really just wrecks your argument and credibility.

    There is little comparison, and making the comparison makes you, and people that agree with it look like the complete idiots they are.

    On the bright side, people I’ve encountered that I’ve heard repeating it have done me a great favor in letting me know who to avoid interacting with. I don’t have time to waste around retards.

  23. Betty Treacle says

    I don’t agree with him at all. The athletes won’t boycott Sochi – most of them are straight anyway and want the glory.

    So it’s up to us. Don’t buy any product that gets advertised during an ad break when the games play. Make it clear you won’t do this. Tweet your disgust at companies that get linked to the Olympics through sponsorship. Refer to the Olympics as the Homophobic Olympics frequently – so that the two words become forever associated with each other.

    We have months left before these games go ahead. A lot can happen in that time. We aren’t going anywhere and we aren’t going to shut up about this.

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