Gay rights issue should not be a distraction, King says

Thu Jan 9, 2014 10:02am EST
 
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By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The controversy swirling around Russia's anti-gay policies should not overshadow the athletes at the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month, tennis legend and advocate Billie Jean King said on Thursday.

In her first public comments since being named as one of three openly gay members in the U.S. delegation to the Olympics, King said she did not know if there would be any coordinated or more subtle protests at the games.

"It's first and foremost about the athletes," she said on NBC's "Today" show.

King, who in 1981 became one of the first prominent American athletes to publicly acknowledge her homosexuality, said President Barack Obama's delegation lineup announced last month is already making a bold statement about gay rights.

"When we step off the plane, we are part of America. We are what America looks like," she said on "Today".

"Visually, we're going to send a very strong message just by being there," she said later on MSNBC.

Obama has said the inclusion of openly gay athletes in the official U.S. delegation was intended to send a pointed message to Russia, where anti-gay policies have stirred criticism.

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Former tennis player Billie Jean King is interviewed while promoting PBS's American Masters series in Beverly Hills, California August 6, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni