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October 26, 2014
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Single-Minded Sochi Criticism Falls Short of the Olympic Spirit

In lieu of last week’s Michael Sam announcement and the public outcry against Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws amidst the Sochi Olympics, it might be best to make sure we don’t completely blind ourselves to progress left to be made in the United States.

As popular and politically convenient it is for many Americans to jump on the Russia government – and rightfully so – for it’s lack of respect for freedom of expression and LGBT rights, to do so so enthusiastically hides to an extent the ever-existent domestic lack of tolerance.

“I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in a way that intimidates them or are harmful to them.”

That quote from President Obama last summer in regards to seeming geopolitical rival Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay propaganda law is certainly on point.  However, those words might more usefully be directed at Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas or Utah.  All eight of those states similarly have laws banning schools from presenting homosexuality in a positive light.

Sports have been and continue to be a great avenue of achieving social progress. Tons of Olympians have also taken advantage of their temporary platform to stand up for gay rights while representing their country in Sochi.

I get that it plays well, especially during the Olympics, for leaders to bash Russia over their laws.  It’s an easy way to both kindle nationalism and get brownie points from progressive advocates.

But such calls for equality are empty when they do not first acknowledge the progress still left to be made domestically.  Denouncing Russia’s “anti-homosexual propaganda” law, whilst ignoring laws similarly prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality in one fifth of the United States does a universal disservice to the LGBT rights movement.  It ignores the countless number of individuals – Alabamans to Utahans – being oppressed by the same laws that constrain Russians.

The Olympics – especially these Olympics in Russia – present a great opportunity to advance social causes, but they shouldn’t be done in a manner that lacks any self-criticalness.  Perhaps if we look to the shores of Sochi to the Black Sea, we can see our own reflection and solve the civil rights issues within our borders, instead of diverting all the attention abroad.