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Billie Jean King: On Sochi Olympics, gay rights

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 1, 2014 at 5:41 pm •  Published: March 1, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — Billie Jean King's taxi ride home after the Sochi Olympics included a revelation.

She learned Jason Collins joined the Brooklyn Nets, becoming the first openly gay male player among the four major U.S. professional sports.

"I was totally stoked and texted him immediately," said King, who saw the news on a TV in her cab in New York. "When my mom died, he called and left a message. I talked to him when he first came out. We've just hit it off."

King returned from a whirlwind three days at the Sochi Games, part of the U.S. delegation for the closing ceremony chosen by President Barack Obama. She watched the gold-medal men's hockey game won by Canada, went up the mountain for bobsled, greeted U.S. athletes and met a Russian gay teenager.

King was originally scheduled to attend the opening ceremony, but her 91-year-old mother died that day.

The closing ceremony last Sunday wrapped up a 17-day sports extravaganza with Russia atop the medal standings and few outward displays of disapproval by international athletes of the country's anti-gay law. Rule 50 of the Olympic charter restricts political gestures or protest by athletes, who mostly shied away from commenting about the topic in Sochi.

King has been outspoken about the Russian law passed last year that banned gay "propaganda" to minors, punishable by fines and jail time. The openly gay former tennis great said she'd like the International Olympic Committee to add sexual orientation to the list of protections in its charter and consider the issue when deciding host countries for future Olympics.

Here are five things to know about King's impressions of the Sochi Games, borscht and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

PUTIN, A HUGGER: King learned while in Sochi that Putin reportedly hugged Ireen Wust, a bisexual Dutch speedskater who led all Sochi medal winners with five — two gold and three silver.

"It's great," King said. "Think he knew it? Doesn't matter, that's the way the world should be. He should be embracing humanity."

Putin said ahead of the Olympics that gay athletes and visitors were welcome, but warned to "leave the kids alone."

MIXED MESSAGES: King said she met with a Russian teen who is gay and getting bullied.

"I'm worried about the LGBT community for their safety," she said. "Basically, it's OK to hate now and you can get away with it. I'm concerned, more than concerned. The main thing is to let them know we care and we can help LGBT organizations that help the community. Dialogue is always good, but action is important, too.

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