The big football news, post-Super Bowl, is that Missouri All-American defensive end Michael Sam is gay.
“I am an openly, proud gay man,” Sam told ESPN.
This declaration is significant because Sam, who already came out to his teammates and coaches, will likely be drafted by an NFL team and become the first openly gay player in the league.
“I understand how big this is,” Sam told the New York Times. “It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be… I want to be a football player in the NFL.”
The news about Sam follows on the controversy over Russia’s “gay propaganda” laws — which have the effect of criminalizing homosexuality and encouraging thuggish attacks on Russian gays — as that country prepared to host the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Of course, the games are underway, amid declarations by Russian and Olympics officials that “politics” have no part in the Games.
It’s a bit late for that.
In a previous editorial (8-16-13 AJW), I wrote that the 1936 Games, “became a great propaganda vehicle for Hitler. There was an international effort to boycott the Berlin Olympics — as there was in 2008, when the Summer Olympics took place in Beijing, China. In both 1936 and 2008, the torch relay was disrupted by protesters.”
And I added: “Following the 1936 Games, Hitler, who was still intent on conquering the world, pressed his plan to have the Olympics take place in Berlin forever. He commissioned his favorite architect, Albert Speer, to design a new venue in Nuremberg. Speer designed a 400,000-seat stadium that was never built.”
Russia is not Nazi Germany; but Putin presides over a despotic regime that scapegoats gay men and lesbians and Central Asian migrant workers. Anti-Semitism is also part of the DNA of Russian society, and recent stories in the Forward have examined the case of Ilya Farber, who was recently released early from a seven-year prison sentence for fraud, for signs of Jew hatred. The jury seems to be out on whether or not Farber’s case portends a ramping up of Russian anti-Semitism.
(Farber was released from prison, along with Jewish oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, members of the rock/protest group Pussy Riot, and Greenpeace activists, as Putin tried to disarm human rights advocates in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics.)
But even if you’re enjoying the slopestyle snowboarding and figure skating in Sochi, Russia’s anti-gay repression deserves continuing condemnation, because the authorities are still fanning the flames of hate.
On the opening day of the Sochi Olympics, prominent human rights activist Anastasia Smirnova was arrested in St. Petersburg. Minky Worden, director of global initiatives for Human Rights Watch, writes: “Her offense? She was on her way to take photos with a banner that promoted principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, which states that ‘Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender, or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement.’”
Worden adds: “What could possibly explain or justify hauling away a few people standing with a sign which makes the accurate (and obvious) point that discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic Charter? One might ask the same question about the arrest in Moscow a few hours later of a group of 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists, including two foreigners, who tried to hold the rainbow flag and sing the Russian national anthem near Red Square. Such is the sad state of things in Russia today.”
Smirnova was among the Russian GLBT leaders who met last year with International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach in Paris, writes Worden. The activists laid out various scenarios for the IOC head, “including what the IOC would do when activists are arrested.”
Worden concludes: “The bottom line is that the IOC’s longstanding failure to protect rights has led Russia to believe it can arrest critics with no consequence. Russia’s ugly and wholly predictable crackdown is a profound challenge to the IOC and the values of the Olympic movement. The IOC should act now and decisively to end Russia’s dangerous games.”
We saw Minnesota, on May 14, 2013, become the 12th state to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. However, these positive changes in the U.S. are not reflected in other places — not in Russia, or Uganda or India.
In the case of Russia, you can watch YouTube videos of thugs attacking and torturing young gay men. The Guardian newspaper in London reported last year that one group, Occupy Pedophila, has uploaded “hundreds of videos” of attacks on gay adults, which are part of their effort to “reform homosexuals.”
This repression is encouraged by the fact that Russian law enforcement authorities have failed to take action against the perpetrators of this violence. When activists were calling for a boycott of the Sochi Games, Putin assured Western reporters that gay visitors to the Olympics had nothing to fear, but they should “leave the children in peace.”
The spotlight soon will leave Sochi, Russia, but the depredations against LGBT Russians likely will continue. We should pay attention to the demise of human rights in Russia. Today it’s directed against gays, not Jews; however, the hate could find new targets tomorrow.
— Mordecai Specktor / editor [at] ajwnews [dot] com
(American Jewish World, 2.14.14)