Four-time Olympian Bode Miller, the greatest downhill skier in American history, took aim at Russia’s anti-LGBT law today, saying that he personally felt embarrassed by its existence — and hinting that more prospective Olympic athletes may be ready to speak out on the issue.
Speaking with reporters at the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Media Summit in Park City, Utah, Miller broke his silence on a social issue that has fast become the central point of discussion surrounding the Sochi Winter Olympics, now just 129 days away.
Here are some of Miller’s comments, per Philip Hersh of The Chicago Tribune:
“I think it is absolutely embarrassing there are countries and people who are that intolerant or that ignorant,” Miller told reporters Monday at the U.S. Olympic media summit. “It’s not the first time. We have been dealing with human rights issues since there were humans.
“My main emotion when I hear and deal with situations like that is embarrassment. As a human being, I think it is embarrassing.”
Miller also said it was “hypocritical and unfair” that athletes are told they cannot express views about such subjects at the Olympics.
“There are politics in sport and athletics,” he said. “They always are intertwined, even though people try to keep them separate. Asking an athlete to go somewhere and compete and be a representative of that philosophy and all the different crap that kind of goes along with it and then telling them they can’t tell them they express their views or they can’t say what they believe is pretty hypocritical and unfair.”
When contacted by BuzzFeed last month on how Russia’s anti-LGBT law might impact the Sochi Olympics, Miller’s publicist declined comment — a possible sign that, given today’s very public condemnation, America’s high-profile athletes are becoming more comfortable with speaking out on the topic.
To that end, American figure skater Ashley Wagner, who is attempting to qualify for her first Olympic Games, also had some strong words today regarding the anti-LGBT law:
“I have gay family members and a lot of friends in the LGBT community,” Wagner said. “I have such a firm stance on this. I believe we should all have equal rights, and I also do not support the legislation in Russia.
In the same breath, however, Wagner seemed to walk back those comments somewhat almost as fast as she said them, trying to speak out on the issue while echoing the International Olympic Committee’s line that it would not comment on domestic matters of the host nation.
“At the same time, it is not my place to go into Russia and tell them how to run their country. I believe the best way for you to show your support for the (LGBT community) is to speak out about it.”
Wagner’s concerns about their comments echo those of three-time U.S. figure skating champion Jeremy Abbott, who made news late last month when he weighed in on the issue by focusing on Russia’s right to its own legislative process and likened such criticism to badmouthing the look of someone’s home furnishings.
“Russia is hosting us,” Abbott said last month. “I’m not going to go into somebody’s house and be like, ‘Um, the way you decorate is hideous, and you need to completely redo this or I’m never coming back.’ It’s a little rude, so I don’t want to say bad things about a country that’s hosting the world, essentially.”
On Monday, he was more cautious in his words, saying, “There is no way to answer this question properly without offending somebody. That’s why we all feel we are walking on eggshells…We have to be cautious about what we say.”
Those comments themselves were more than others gave. Other notable prospective Olympians, including 2010 men’s figure skating gold medalist Evan Lysacek, declined to speak on the Russian controversy at all when given the opportunity on Monday.