Courtesy CNN's Christiane Amanpour -
Special to the SGN
In an exclusive interview, tennis legend Billie Jean King told CNN's Christiane Amanpour she is 'thrilled' to represent the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. 'I'm very proud to go as an athlete, and as a Gay woman,' she said. 'I'm thrilled.'
Asked by Amanpour if there will be any protests, King said, 'Maybe we should wave rainbow flags or something, I don't know,' drawing an analogy to the Black Power salute - a raised fist - given by two American athletes at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. She added, 'As long as we're not being malicious, we can show our feelings.'
President Obama named the former tennis champion, who is Gay, to the American delegation at the Olympics two weeks ago. The President himself will not attend the Games - the first time in more than a decade that an American president, vice president, first lady or former president has not done so.
King said if the anti-Gay law was the reason for the President's non-attendance, he should 'go ahead and say it,' but added - with tongue in cheek - that, he was 'sending a 'King' instead of a president.'
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a press conference Thursday, knocked down criticism over the law as 'Western values.'
Below are links to select clips, the full interview and the transcript.
VIDEO: President Obama 'sending a 'King' instead of a president.'
VIDEO: Billy Jean King on whether athletes should protest.
VIDEO: Full interview.
Christiane Amanpour, CNN Host: Billie Jean King, welcome. Welcome back to the program.
Billie Jean King, Tennis Pro and Activist: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Amanpour: How did it come about? Were you surprised to be asked to be an official delegate for the U.S. team to the Olympics?
King: Absolutely. But I thought, when I was called from somebody in the government and they asked me, I thought, I would love to, 'cause I've been going to Russia since 1962.
Amanpour: As a tennis player.
King: As a player, and I love going to Russia. I love the people.
But going back as far as - you know, going back to Russia, being part of the delegation, to the Winter Olympics, is [an] amazing honor.
Amanpour: In fact, you tweeted, and we've got that tweet that we can remind everybody about, what you tweeted: 'Honored to represent the USA in Sochi and I hope these Olympics will be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people.'
And that is what this is all about: You've been sent as a Gay delegate at a time when the Russian government has an anti-propaganda law about Gay issues. They are against this whole issue.
What do you feel your political role, if I might say, is?
King: Well, I'm very proud to go as an athlete and as a Gay woman. I'm thrilled. I think that, the outpouring of people getting in touch with me or tweeting, Facebook, it's been phenomenal. I had no idea -
Amanpour: What did they say? What did they hope that you'll do?
King: They're hoping that we can help change the laws, really. I mean, culturally, I'm sure that the majority of Russians, I would hope, want each person to be able to be their true self as you go through a day.
Maybe they don't. Maybe President Putin is trying to get, make people happy, within, maybe, the conservative, small 'c', conservative, people in Russia. I don't know. I'm sure there's a political reason.
This is just an issue that has to be resolved, because what's happening is because bullying and hate, the hatred involved, is becoming very, very prevalent now. And you, you can be really hateful and you can bully, you can kill others and get away with it now, because of this, I think, ambiguous new law that says it's OK to really hurt us.
Amanpour: Well, -
King: And be imprisoned.
Amanpour: And it's been going on. We want to show a few pictures -
King: It's really horrible.
Amanpour: Two women who were kissing were then pushed violently to the ground and we have all these images. There you go. And there has been sort of an upsurge of attacks against openly Gay people.
King: They can.
Amanpour: So the question again is, what will you be doing? Do you know what your role will be?
King: No, I have no idea as far as my role. But what I would do is if I'm asked, I'm definitely going to give my opinion. But I hope we have lots of security at the same time.
I must say, there is a, there is a part of me that will be very alert, very alert, because you just never know what's going to happen. But I just hope with the outpouring of the people throughout the world, will start to influence and, hopefully, if there's enough of public opinion, I would hope President Putin would change his mind.
Amanpour: He was asked about it in his major press conference in Moscow, and he goes on about defending 'Russian values' and the difference between 'Russian values' and 'Western values.'
Does that even resonate with you in any way -
King: Not really.
Amanpour: - when he said that?
King: When he says that, I feel like, 'What are you, in the 18th century, 19th century or what?'
The - I think our values are excellent. In the rest of the world, or the Western world, the democracies are important. It's - each person can live their life and be a good citizen, pay their taxes, all that, don't break the law, they're creating laws that are just very intolerant to others.
And really, what's important is that each person go through their day as their authentic self, to be true to their self, as long as they're a good citizen, and it really upsets me.
What about the Gay parents, for instance, with their children? I think a lot of Gay parents will leave Russia, if they can. I would, because I would worry about my children, if I were a Gay parent.
Amanpour: Some people have said that President Obama hasn't gone far enough, that nominating Billie Jean King, as big a world symbol as you are, is not enough, because he hasn't said that he's not going because of this.
Other world leaders haven't said that they're not going because of this.
Now others have written that actually by sending you, it is a direct protest. It is a direct signal of protest by the United States and, in fact, as one article in ESPN wrote, 'civilized disobedience.'
What do you think?
King: I think it's, if President Obama feels this, go ahead and say it, but I think he's sending a 'King' instead of a president over there. I'm very happy to do whatever.
But I think, it would be nice, I think, if other presidents of countries would say if that is, if that is the reason, it would be nice if they say it.
Amanpour: The IOC has or says it will put respect for people's sexual orientation as part of their rules. Is that, is that right?
King: They need to, yes, absolutely. You want protection, tolerance and, hopefully, celebration of differences. That's really what's important. And so, yes, I think the language protects. They should have it in there. Absolutely they should put it in there.
Amanpour: What about boycotts? Now a lot of Russians have said, we don't want this to be boycotted because we, the Gay community, will be blamed for destroying the Russian Olympics.
King: I'm not real big on boycotting usually. It has to be absolutely a last resort. I think it's more important to go and be there and be involved and be committed to trying to help change, and trying to let people also know, if you're Gay, that you're not alone. If you're part of the LGBT community, you are not alone.
We are there, representing all of us. That we're going, that's very important right now, because I know sometimes it must be really hard on them.
Amanpour: The IOC has said that Gay athletes cannot officially protest or do anything political because that's against the Olympic rules.
Others have said, well, maybe they can do something, something positive, I don't know, kiss their partner in public or come out in public, if they win or something.
Have you had a chance to think about whether there would be any appropriate demonstration by a Gay athlete at Sochi?
King: Well, maybe it wouldn't be appropriate, but why not? I think they - it's OK to say what you feel and think, as long as we're protected. But if you look back at the '68 Olympics with the fists and whatever, if there is something they want to -
Amanpour: The Black Power (inaudible) -
King: Maybe we should wave rainbow flags or something, I don't know. There's no reason as long as we're not being malicious, but we can show our feelings, I think that's fine. I think it's OK. But by even being present and not boycotting sends a very positive message. We're here. We hope you'll think about it. We hope you'll change. And you're not alone.
Amanpour: Billie Jean King, thank you very much.
King: Thanks a lot, Christiane. Go girl! (Laughter.)
Amanpour airs weekdays on CNNI at 2 p.m. ET and 5 p.m. ET (11 a.m. PT and 2 p.m. PT). Her interviews can also be seen on Amanpour.com.
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