Brian Boitano: Gay rights message is sent by Olympic athletes 'standing together, united as gay people'
Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater Brian Boitano was recently named to the U.S. delegation for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia -- and then made headlines by coming out of the closet.
Boitano is joined on the delegation by tennis player Billie Jean King and ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow, who are both openly gay -- a message from President Obama to Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin about its anti-gay laws. The figure skater tells "Today" that he could not let this opportunity pass him by.
"I was so honored to be asked by the White House," says Boitano. "When the president named the delegation and I read in the news what his message was of tolerance and diversity, I thought, 'I have to take this opportunity.' I think the message is so strong and I've always wanted to represent my country as best I could. I knew I had to go past my comfort zone and reveal a private side of my life that I've never done before, because I felt that the message is so strong."
However, he does not think it is necessarily the delegation's place to stage a demonstration or protest.
"I think that we have to be careful once we go over there. I think the statement has already been made by us being on the delegation -- Billie Jean and Caitlin -- and us standing together, united as gay people, showing that there is free speech and we are successful human beings and athletes and I think that that speaks measures," says Boitano, though he is not discouraging Olympic athletes from expressing their views.
"I encourage everybody to do what they feel is best for themselves," Boitano continues. "I never thought that I would be coming out in this way and in a matter of 10 hours, I decided to do it. That was what was right for me at this time. I tell everyone I think they should do what's right for them."
As far as his coming out goes, Boitano says that he's going to continue to be a relatively private person, but that the outpouring of support has been terrific.
"The reaction has been fantastic and really supportive. I've always been a private person, I've kept the private side of my life special for family and friends who really knew me," says Boitano. "I've never been ashamed of who I was, I've always been open with them. ... I'm just a private guy. I've always chosen to keep my sexuality private. ... I intend to still be a private man, just a private gay man that people know now."
Also on the delegation with Boitano are former Olympians Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden. The 2014 Winter Olympics kick off with the opening ceremony on Friday, Feb. 7 in Sochi, Russia.