When it comes to the Sochi Olympics and Russia’s draconian anti-gay laws – criminalizing everything from gay pride parades to positive comments about the LGBT community to minors – there’s a variety of opinions on what athletes can, or should, do to protest them.
Pierre Martin is a professor of political science at the Université de Montréal, thinks the best protest is invisibility.
Martin, writing in the Toronto Star, believes that if hockey players from the U.S. and Canada boycott the 2014 Games – draining the centerpiece event of the Winter Games of star power – it would send an effective message to Vladamir Putin and the Russian government.
It’s also, like, the exact opposite of what should happen.
The message would come out loud and clear: our countries care enough about human rights to forego a shot at a medal in a marquee event, but we also want to be present in Sochi, to speak up and be heard.
… Other athletes would compete as planned, including those who might wish to express their opinions about Russia’s anti-gay policies. One might even argue that they could do so in a much more powerful way if their home country backed their words with deeds.
The National Hockey League would protest, but owners might secretly appreciate not putting their most precious assets at risk of injury. After all, the NHL has recently started a campaign to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation, so if it can talk the talk, maybe it could also walk the walk.
Of course, TV networks and advertisers would pay a price, but they can find other ways to reach into our pockets.
Oh, yeah, let’s just gloss over that detail.
What Martin or anyone voicing support for a boycott doesn’t get: That the NHL is talking the talk on gay rights, and should continue to do so in Sochi.
It’s far more effective to protest those laws by actually breaking them than to sit at home watching a bunch of world juniors players wearing national team jerseys and getting their asses kicked by Ovechkin and Kovalchuk.
(That’s assuming Russia’s players wouldn’t join a boycott for the following reasons: Because they have families that live in Russia.)
When it comes to how to handle the Sochi anti-gay laws protests, my spirit animal is Patrick Burke.
The founder of You Can Play recently spelled out why, exactly, a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics is the worst thing those who want to take a stand against the laws:
"Every gay athlete that I have spoken too has said universally that they want to go. There is not one gay athlete that I have spoken too who is competing in these games who is in favour of a boycott or in favour of staying home, gay athletes want to show up, they want to compete they want to show what they can do," Burke said in a television interview with the CBC Friday. "The Russian Laws are based on the ideas that gay people are somehow weaker or wrong, or lesser. If you a win an Olympic gold medal and you are gay doesn't that show exactly the opposite of that."
Exactly. You don’t turn tail and run from bullies. You stand up to them, test their backbone and reveal them to be myopic cowards.