The White House announced Tuesday tennis legend and LGBT activist Billie Jean King and openly gay hockey player Caitlin Cahow have been named to the official presidential delegation, headed by former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. The selection is thought to come in response to the controversy surrounding Russia's strict anti-gay laws including fines for "gay propaganda."
The White House did not reference the laws specifically, but pointed to "diversity, determination and teamwork" as what motivated the choice.
“It’s obviously a statement that’s being made, but I think it’s an incredibly respectful one,” Cahow said.
“Basically, the White House is highlighting Americans who know what it means to have freedoms and liberties under the Constitution. That’s really what we’re representing in Sochi and it’s not at all different from what’s espoused in the spirit of Olympism.
This is the first time since 2000 that the delegation will not include the president, vice-president or first lady. Even without those figures, the fact that Obama is sending a presidential delegation signifies that the US will not boycott the games in any way.
"In the selection of this delegation ... we are sending the message that the United States is a diverse place," said Jay Carney.
Rounding out the delegation are figure skating Brian Boitano, U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation Michael McFaul and Deputy Chief of Staff Robert Nabors. Speed skaters Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden will join the delegation for the closing ceremony.