Figure skater Johnny Weir made official what had been apparent since he said last month he would not be trying out for the U.S. Olympic team in Sochi, Russia -- he's retiring.
Weir, 29, announced his retirement at the same time he took a job as an analyst for NBC's Olympics coverage. Anyone hoping that Weir would speak out in his new role against Russia's anti-gay laws will be disappointed. Weir told the New York Times he's staying clear of the issue.
"I risk jail time just going there, but the Olympics are not the place to make a political statement," he said. "I'm not a politician and I don't really talk about politics. You don't have to agree with the politics, but you have to respect the culture of a country you are visiting." ... It's pretty obvious that I've been gay my whole life," he said as he gave himself a once-over. "I don't need to break any laws or wear a rainbow pin to show people that I support gay rights.
"I think I'll do that just by being in Sochi and supporting our people there and know they are not alone."
Weir is in a complicated position. Some of his gay peers - including his husband, Victor Voronov, a first-generation Russian-American - want him to speak out and "be more on the side of the gay team." Others have vehemently disagreed with the way he has lived his life, like the way he waited until 2011 to acknowledge publicly that he was gay. Weir is sure that his extravagantly expensive Hermès Birkin bag was recently defaced by another gay man who took a marker to its orange leather and wrote an expletive.
Weir has a right to do and say what he wants, but the whole "I might go to jail" argument is nonsense. Gays in Russia have it tough, but I can't imagine the Russian government jailing an American TV analyst, especially one who is such a Russophile and popular in the country as Weir. It also contradicts what he told Matt Lauer on the "Today" show on Wednesday:
"I'm a gay American. I've married into a Russian family. I've been a longtime supporter of Russia, the culture, the country, the language, everything about Russia... While this law is a terrible thing that you can't be gay publicly in Russia, I plan to be there in full support of our brothers and sisters there and not be afraid. If I get arrested, I get arrested; if not, great, but our presence is needed. For all the Olympians that worked so hard, a boycott is just the worst thing that you could do to all these young people."
To recap: Johnny Weir will stay mum on gay rights in Russia so he won't be arrested. Or he will be there fully supporting gay Russians and if he gets arrested, so be it. He still has time to come up with a third option.
I like Weir and he will be great on TV. I just hope he figures out his position on this before the Games start.
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