Adam Rippon, a figure skater for Team USA who’s openly gay, turned down an invitation to meet with Vice President Mike Pence at the 2018 Winter Olympics, Christine Brennan of USA TODAY reports.
On the afternoon on Jan. 17, Pence had another focus: He was so concerned about the criticism he received from U.S. Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon that his staff went to the extraordinary length of asking the U.S. Olympic Committee to set up a conversation between the two — an offer Rippon turned down.
According to two people with knowledge of the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly about it, a member of Pence’s staff requested the conversation with the openly gay Rippon after reading the skater’s derogatory remarks about him in a USA TODAY Sports story that had been published online just an hour earlier.
Rippon, the two people said, declined the invitation.
The spat began in January when Brennan asked Rippon, the first openly gay American Olympic skater, about the choice of Pence to lead the U.S. delegation to Pyeongchang. Pence has long advocated policies against LGBT people, though he denies inferences that he supported gay conversion therapy.
“You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy? I’m not buying it,” Rippon said to Brennan. Rippon said he had no desire to meet Pence.
“If it were before my event, I would absolutely not go out of my way to meet somebody who I felt has gone out of their way to not only show that they aren’t a friend of a gay person but that they think that they’re sick,” Rippon said. “I wouldn’t go out of my way to meet somebody like that.”
Brennan tweeted: “VP Mike Pence was so stung by Adam Rippon’s criticism that he tried to set up a conversation with him. Not backing down, Rippon refused.”
Rippon is certainly within his rights to refuse to meet with Pence, though he has said he would consider an invitation after the Games. Also, any athlete gearing up for the biggest competition of their lives should be 100% focused on training and preparing; meet-and-greets can wait until after.
If the invitation still holds once the Games end, Rippon should accept and show Pence what a proud gay athlete looks like. If Pence forgets about Rippon after the Olympics are over, we’ll know his extending an invitation was simply part of a PR strategy.