NBC's Lauer Urges U.S. Olympic Athlete to Stage Gay Protest During Sochi Games

While interviewing openly gay U.S. women's hockey team player Caitlin Cahow on Thursday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer hoped for controversy during the games over Russia's "anti-gay laws": "[Openly gay former tennis player] Billy Jean King said that perhaps it is time for a 'John Carlos moment'....that moment in 1968 in Mexico City [Olympics] when [U.S. runners] John Carlos and Tommy Smith stood up and they gave the Black Power salute because they wanted to protest racial inequality. Would you be willing to be a part of some kind of a John Carlos moment in Sochi?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Cahow tried to tamp down Lauer's expectations: "Honestly I think that my John Carlos moment right now is going to Russia and being present and representing the United States. Like I said before, this delegation represents so much more than just LGBT diversity. We have a really remarkable diversity in the United States."

Lauer noted that "some people have criticized the administration and the President already for injecting politics into sports" by naming Cahow and Billy Jean King to the official U.S. delegation for the games, and wondered: "...does it distract an athlete when politics are brought into the Olympic competition?"

Cahow responded by lecturing America:

I think the Olympics are always going to have politics involved. It's really hard to divorce the two. And what I would say is that the great thing about the Olympics is that every two years we get the opportunity not only to be inspired by amazing human achievement, but to hold the mirror up to our own faces and say, what can we be doing better? Because we can be doing better. There's inequality in the United States still that has nothing to do with LGBT rights. So I think the Olympics will be a great opportunity to be inspired by amazing athletes and then come back home and get back to work.

After Cahow had already dismissed the idea of staging a "John Carlos moment," Lauer still suggested some kind of demonstration: "The Russians have said there will be no repercussions for any athlete,  or I guess bystander, doing any kind of subtle protest – wearing rainbow arm bands or anything like that. Do you think we're gonna see a lot of protests once the games begin?"

In a report prior to Lauer's exchange with Cahow, White House correspondent Peter Alexander hyped fears that the delegation decision by the Obama administration would negatively impact scores for Team USA:

ALEXANDER: One long-time Olympic observer insists the President's decision is a significant snub.

ALAN ABRAHAMSON [3WIRESPORTS.COM]: This is sending an absolute signal of complete and total disrespect for the Russian Federation and for Russian President Vladmir Putin.

PUTIN: And Alan Abrahamson described that American decision about its delegation as what he called "a clear disregard for the International Olympic Committee," as well. He warned that the move could actually impact U.S. athletes chances in Sochi, Matt, where, of course, many of the competitions there are judged sports.

LAUER: Yeah, whether it will be held against them.


Here is a full transcript of Lauer's December 19 interview with Cahow:

7:34AM ET

MATT LAUER: Caitlin Cahow is a two-time Olympic medalist, is a member of Team USA's women's ice hockey team. She'll travel to Sochi as a member of the official U.S. delegation. Caitlin, it's good to see you, good morning.

CAITLIN CAHOW: It's good to be here, thank you.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Sending A Message; Openly Gay U.S. Delegation Member Speaks Out]

LAUER: How'd you find out the news?

CAHOW: Oh my gosh, well, I had a member of the White House call me and that was kind of a surprise to get on my cell phone an unknown number. And so I answered it and I heard the news and I was elated, I was thrilled.

LAUER: People are saying because you are openly gay and Billy Jean King is openly gay, that this is a statement, that this is a message being sent to Russia's government and Russia's president. Do you feel as if you're part of a statement?

CAHOW: Honestly, Matt, I think that the President's been very open about his feelings about Russian policies, and I think he's been very open about his feeling about LGBT policies here at home, too. I'm going over to Sochi representing a country that has made the most dramatic shifts on some of these issues in the last few years and I'm very proud to be representing that kind of diversity.

LAUER: But let me just ask a blunt question, and I don't mean any disrespect by this, do you think you would have been chosen if you were not gay?

CAHOW: I can't really speak to that, I wasn't on the selection committee. I mean, I think there are a lot of issues that I stand for that I'm looking to support our athletes with when I'm in Sochi, but the reality is right now that I've been selected and I'm gonna do my best to support our athletes.

LAUER: Billy Jean King said that perhaps it is time for a "John Carlos moment." You're too young to remember that moment in 1968 in Mexico City when John Carlos and Tommy Smith stood up and they gave the Black Power salute because they wanted to protest racial inequality. Would you be willing to be a part of some kind of a John Carlos moment in Sochi?

CAHOW: Honestly I think that my John Carlos moment right now is going to Russia and being present and representing the United States. Like I said before, this delegation represents so much more than just LGBT diversity. We have a really remarkable diversity in the United States. And I think that's what all of the athletes in Sochi and the delegation will be demonstrating.

LAUER: You know, some people have criticized the administration and the President already for injecting politics into sports. There's a lot of disagreements between the United States and Russia right now, not only this issue, but we have Edward Snowden, we have the issue of Syria. As an athlete and someone who's participated in the Olympics, does it distract an athlete when politics are brought into the Olympic competition?

CAHOW: I think the Olympics are always going to have politics involved. It's really hard to divorce the two. And what I would say is that the great thing about the Olympics is that every two years we get the opportunity not only to be inspired by amazing human achievement, but to hold the mirror up to our own faces and say, what can we be doing better? Because we can be doing better. There's inequality in the United States still that has nothing to do with LGBT rights. So I think the Olympics will be a great opportunity to be inspired by amazing athletes and then come back home and get back to work.

LAUER: The Russians have said there will be no repercussions for any athlete,  or I guess bystander, doing any kind of subtle protest – wearing rainbow arm bands or anything like that. Do you think we're gonna see a lot of protests once the games begin?

CAHOW: I think that very many people feel very strongly about this issue and I think that there are going to be statements that are made. I would say my main goal is to make sure that athletes and spectators stay safe and that this is a peaceful Olympics and that everyone is able to really appreciate and take in the amazing qualities that the Olympics provide.

LAUER: And just quickly, a question I didn't expect this morning because the story developed overnight, but the patriarch of the Duck Dynasty show has made some controversial comments about homosexuality. Do you care to respond to them at all?

CAHOW: Well, I mean, obviously I'm disappointed. Words that are negative in that way hurt everyone I think and they reflect poorly on us as a society. But I do understand that there are changing winds in the United States and people are adapting and evolving, and I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. So I hope that some minds are changed through those statements and I look forward to a tomorrow when these classifications no longer exist.

LAUER: Caitlin Cahow, congratulations on being named to the official U.S. delegation. We look forward to seeing you in Sochi.

CAHOW: Thank you very much.

LAUER: Thank you very much.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC