NBC Olympics coverage will address Russia anti-gay issues - if they impact games

NBC Sports chief Mark Lazarus, executive producer Jim Bell, and NBC Olympics reporters Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, and Apolo Ohno speak onstage during the "NBC Olympics" panel discussion at the NBC portion of the 2013 Summer Television Critics Association tour.

As concern grows over how Russia's anti-gay laws might affect the upcoming winter Olympics, NBC Sports executive Mark Lazarus told members of the press that the network will "address those issues as they are relevant at the time of the Games, as has always been done by NBC's coverage."

Given NBC's near-invisible coverage of China's human rights issues were in Beijing in 2008, don't consider me reassured.


Especially since Lazarus later said that NBC would cover the Russian law if it is "impacting any part of the Olympic games," a scenario that seems unlikely unless Russian authorities head into the Olympic Village and start imprisoning LGBT athletes. With the eyes of the world upon it, that's not a move the Russian government is likely to make.

Both Lazarus' comments and a recent International Olympic Committee statement, in which the group said it would work to prevent anti-gay discrimination against LGBT Olympics attendees, miss the mark. Activists aren't calling for a boycott of the Olympics because Russia's laws will impact Olympic athletes and spectators, but because of what the law means for LGBT Russians.


Presumably, neither organization anticipated Russia would institutionalize homophobia, and the Olympics are hardly the best venue through human rights issues can be addressed. Given the logistical planning behind an enormous international sporting event, the IOC can't move the event, and as a journalistic institution, NBC shouldn't forgo Olympics coverage. So as a way of skirting controversy, both groups have made event-specific comments that seem to ignore the problem at hand.

But the IOC includes "sport for all" as a key part of its mission statement, and Russia's laws essentially prohibit LGBT people from openly participating in athletics.  If Olympic values are meant to spread beyond the playing field (or skating rink and ski slope, as it were), the organization has a responsibility to use stricter language and apply more pressure.

Same goes for NBC Sports. The network may consider its primary mission reporting on the results of sporting events that take place in Sochi. But each Olympics is inextricably linked to its setting, and networks consistently run location-based pieces meant to orient viewers with the event's backdrop. If NBC is intent on doing fluff pieces about, say, fake snow in Sochi, fine.

So long as it explores the anti-gay attitudes lurking right behind the Olympics' LGBT-friendly Potemkin village.