As mentioned, I spent just under a month in the Caucasus. And since then, everything I’ve been reading was physics, and everything I’ve been writing is thesis, so I’ve no idea if this is a good idea, whether someone’s come up with it before, whether it’s already been done, etc.
Russia is going to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014. At the same time, Russia passed some rather egregious anti-gay laws. As a result, there’ve been calls to boycott the Olympics (and, even more oddly, by Dan Savage, calls to boycott vodka) over these new anti-gay laws (the coddling of Assad thing oddly no one seems to care enough about). The boycott isn’t something that’s going to happen, because for that you need a country’s olympic officials to go along with it, and also it’s a dumb idea.
Instead, gay rights activists and athletes are talking about going to the games, but making some kind of gesture of protest or support for gay rights. But let’s not kid ourselves, this ain’t gonna be Tommie Smith and John Carlos. These gestures are going to be really lame and ineffectual. Smith and Carlos were American sports heroes speaking to middle America. Western athletes aren’t going to have any effect whatsoever in Russia because Russians already don’t cheer for western athletes and gay rights is already associated with the west. In fact, western athletes making any sort of gesture will backfire because the Russian government will succesfully cement the link between its anti-gay laws and the distrust and contempt of the West that is central to Putin’s supporters. For the lowest common denominator Russian patriot, western things are bad, and gays are bad, so further associating gay rights and westerners isn’t gonna do any good. On the other hand, what could be more patriotic than supporting Russian athletes? That’s like the definition of patriotism. And what’s manlier or more popular at the Winter Olympics than hockey players? Butyou’re not going to get the Russian Men’s Team to wear rainbow flags or speak out against the laws, for one thing because they’re unlikely to want to, and for another because they don’t want to embarrass their country.
So here is my solution: Patrick Burke goes and gets members of the Russian Men’s Hockey Team to film a You Can Play video. In Russian. “If you can play, you can play” ( “если можешь играть, то можешь играть” ) sounds a little bit strange in Russian, but I guess it will work, or maybe someone will come up with a better translation. The brilliant thing about You Can Play in this case is that it is entirely apolitical: they don’t have a stance on gay marriage, gay adoption, any kind of gay rights at all. What’s more, Russia’s new laws don’t specify that gays are not allowed to play hockey even if they are good at hockey, and in fact I don’t think many players believe such a thing either. So there is no real reason why players would strongly object to participating. They may not particularly want to, and I know Patrick Burke usually operates by only having enthusiastic volunteers. But this is one case where he should forgo that principle.
And that’s it. You don’t need to get it on TV, or have anybody make any sort of pro-gay gestures. Just put the video on youtube and your work is done. You’ve created a dissonance between patriotic hockey fandom and patriotic gay bashing. If you get a sizeable number of NHLers, Russia wouldn’t dare kick everyone off the team because that would guarantee the team would suck, and that would be a great national embarrassment on home soil. The fight against gays is a smallbore thing, I think the government will let something like this slide in the greater service of its number one goal of encouraging mindless patriotism.
So there you are, Patrick Burke. I think you can make a difference. Why not give it a shot?