No Shame in Watching These Games: The argument for NOT boycotting the Olympics on TV

By : Kirk Hartlage
Comments: 0
Kirk Hartlage

Kirk Hartlage

I’m gay, I drink Stolichnaya Vodka, and this month I’m watching the Olympics. Oh, and I’m not ashamed of any of it. When I hear my LGBT brethren speak of boycotting the 2014 Winter Games I have to ask, “What does boycotting really mean to you?” If it means not watching any of NBC’s extensive coverage from Sochi, well then, you’re missing out.

No matter the season, the Olympic Games consistently present compelling tales featuring the thrills of victory and the agonies of defeat. This year’s Games already are no exception; to deny our—­­or any nation’s—athletes the opportunity to compete against all of the world’s best would be a huge discredit to the true Olympic spirit.

President Thomas Bach said as much in his welcoming speech at the Opening Ceremonies: “Olympic Sport unites people. This is the Olympic Message the athletes spread to the host country and to the whole world. Yes, it is possible to strive even for the greatest victory with respect for the dignity of your competitors. Yes, yes, it is possible—even as competitors—to live together under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason.” Although NBC edited this and other sections of Bach’s comments from its broadcast, the network has repeatedly addressed the anti-gay controversy in other sections of its coverage.

No disrespect to EPCOT intended, but only with the Olympics comes the world showcase that is the Opening Ceremonies, which also provides the host nation an opportunity to put itself on center stage. Mother Russia gave the world a colorful—and in some cases, wildly creative—overview of its history…even if they seemingly forgot to mention the Cold War, perestroika, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Yes, only a week in and I’m already giving the Sochi Games high marks, and that’s just for the Opening Ceremonies’ breathtaking arena floor-filling animation sequence featuring the voyage of Peter the Great. Plus it was somewhat amusing to watch the Russian team march into the stadium to the sounds of fake-lesbian duo t.A.T.u.’s song “Not Gonna Get Us,” chosen by the ceremony’s director because it’s one of the few Russian pop songs that international viewers might recognize.

I’ve heard some gays exuberantly proclaim they’d never watch these Games, which begs the question, “Were you ever going to watch any of the coverage anyway?” It’s easy to say you’re going on a strict no-borscht diet if you never really ate borscht in the first place. Also, does it really matter what you do and don’t watch on TV if Big Brother isn’t monitoring your choices?

If you’re truly not watching this year’s Olympics because of LGBT human rights issues, then write a letter to the NBC brass telling them as much. While you’re at it, forward that same letter to the International Olympic Committee urging them to make better choices when selecting host cities, as well as to the numerous sponsors of the Games…again assuming you eat Big Macs, drink Diet Coke, or use your VISA card when purchasing those or any other official Olympic items.

While I’ve long enjoyed watching the Olympics—both Summer and Winter—the Sochi Games are a bit more personal. One of the US Men’s Bobsled Team members is my third cousin, and several years ago I learned I have a bit of Russian heritage in my family tree. Plus, back in 1989  I was fortunate enough to take part in a student exchange program to the USSR. Whenever I look at the Russian propaganda posters and other tchotchke souvenirs that decorate my home today,  I’m reminded of the wonderful people I met there—people who my parent’s generation simply saw as “the enemy.” It’s difficult to foster hatred toward an entire group of people when you’ve actually spent time with them and, clichés be damned, are in many ways “just like us.”

Thankfully I’m not the only gay in the (Olympic) village who wants to watch the Games. Nellie’s, a popular gay sports bar in Washington, D.C., is showing the Olympics; the bar even opened earlier than usual this past Sunday when customers requested it…so they could watch live figure skating. Gallup polls show that a far higher proportion of people in our nation’s capital define themselves LGBT than anywhere else in the country; D.C. businesses certainly must consider what’s “politically correct” with every decision they make.

And remember last summer when the “in” thing to do was to ask your local gay barkeep to pour his bottle of Stolichnaya Vodka down the drain instead of using it to make you a delicious cocktail? Well, that fad is over. Sidetracks—one of Chicago’s most popular gay bars which was at the forefront of the nationwide Stoli ban—returned the distilled beverage to its shelves last week.

The bar’s owners no doubt reconsidered the advice from well-meaning activists; do-gooders who singled out Stoli last July before learning that the Stolichnaya sold in the United States is actually produced by Luxembourg-based SPI Group in Riga, Latvia. At the start of the boycott, SPI even issued a statement saying, in part, “While we are proud of our Russian heritage, we are not a Russian State-owned brand nor do we support their laws and actions against the LGBT community there.”

If Sidetracks, Nellie’s, and certainly many other LGBT businesses are all giving second thought to jumping on board yet another Russian-themed boycott, perhaps you should too.

Share this story: