With a place on the U.S. Olympic team firmly in hand, four-time U.S. figure skating national champion Jeremy Abbott staked out a stronger position on Russia’s anti-LGBT laws than in the past — telling BuzzFeed Thursday that they “are incredibly unfortunate.”
Abbott, who will compete in men’s figure skating at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next month, said he felt more comfortable speaking out about the laws since earning a spot on the national team Sunday.
“I’ve been asked this question a lot and I tried to push it to the side a lot. I didn’t know if I was going to be on this team and I wanted to make sure my focus was on the team,” Abbott said. The laws “go strongly against my personal beliefs. It’s very upsetting to me and very unfortunate.”
A first-time Olympian in 2010, Abbott was much more measured in his comments about Russia in remarks to the Denver Post in August 2013.
“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,’” he said at the time. “It’s a little rude, so I don’t want to say bad things about a country that’s hosting the world, essentially. Maybe I don’t agree with their policies, and maybe I don’t agree with some things, but that’s for them to sort out. My speaking out just makes me look like an ass.”
Now, however, he was speaking out — including describing his thoughts about the presidential delegation to the Sochi Games being led by former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and including three out athletes, Billie Jean King, Caitlin Cahow and Brian Boitano.
“I can’t say whether the envoy is in protest. I think it’s a pretty clear message,” he said. “I’m good friends with Brian Boitano and happy to see him part of this team and part of envoy.”
Abbott’s shift in tone comes just days after the head of the U.S. Olympic Committee made some of his strongest remarks yet urging athletes not to protest Russia’s anti-LGBT laws at the Sochi Games. “We’re hoping that our athletes feel very comfortable speaking their minds before they go to the Games. But when they get to the Games, that’s really the time to focus on sport,” USOC Scott Blackmun said.
Abbott is currently finishing up training for the Winter Olympics in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, just outside of Detroit. He didn’t say whether he planned to speak out about the anti-LGBT “propaganda” law during competition, saying merely that he hoped to be more focused than during his last Olympics appearance in 2010, when he finished ninth.
“We need to send a proud strong positive message. As athletes, the Olympics are about unity and the human spirit. I’ve always admired that about Olympians and I want to continue to uphold that ideal. I believe that these laws go against that,” he said. “I don’t have much more else to say about that. I just want to go and make my country proud and show the world how strong we are.”
But the 28-year-old Abbott actually did have a little more to say, following up in an e-mail to BuzzFeed after a phone interview. He wanted to expound a bit on his response to a question about the extent of his LGBT advocacy.
“I don’t care what people assume about me, whether or not I am gay or straight. Ultimately I think it has no baring on the conversation,” he wrote. “I’m an ally and I believe everyone should be supportive of human rights.”
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