Billie Jean King Will Not Attend Opening Ceremonies at 2014 Sochi Games

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2014

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 16:  Womens Sports Foundation Founder Billie Jean King speaks onstage during the 34th annual Salute to Women In Sports Awards at Cipriani, Wall Street on October 16, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for the Women's Sports Foundation)
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Billie Jean King will not attend the Opening Ceremonies of the 2014 Sochi Olympics after her mother fell ill.

Melissa Murphy of the Associated Press (via ABC News) had the news along with a statement from King on her decision:

King told The Associated Press on Wednesday that because of her mother's "failing health, I will not be able to join the U.S. Presidential delegation at this week's opening ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics."

Betty Moffitt, her 91-year-old mother, lives in Arizona and has been ill for some time. King will be joined by her brother Randy Moffitt, a former pitcher for the San Francisco Giants.

"It is important for me to be with my mother and my brother at this difficult time. I want to thank President Obama for including me in this historic mission and I look forward to supporting our athletes as they compete in Sochi."

King is one of the most accomplished tennis players in history with 39 Grand Slam titles, including 12 as a singles competitor. Her presence helping lead the United States delegation at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi was meant to be about more than just sports, though.   

The California native was selected by President Barack Obama as one of his delegates to represent the country in Russia. Sending an openly gay former athlete to a nation where the treatment of the LGBT community is a concern was a clear message.

King wrote an opinion piece for CNN on Jan. 28 ahead of the Olympics about the delegation. She said the most important part wasn't the simple fact that it includes both gay and straight representatives, but rather that it showcases the diversity of the country.

The tennis legend made it clear she didn't plan to protest, demonstrate or otherwise make the focus about herself. Rather, she was hoping to make an impact by showing support from the LGBT community in Russia, leading to potential progress around the globe:

While I am not planning to protest or demonstrate, I am concerned with the treatment of the LGBT community in Russia and throughout the world. I want the LGBT community living in Russia to know they are not alone and I hope others realize this is not only a gay rights issue, but a global concern for human rights and equality.

As I said when I was named to the U.S. delegation, I hope these Olympics will be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people.

King also said the delegation is there to cheer on the American athletes with a desire to further the equality conversation at the same time:

I have a saying that 98 percent of winning is showing up. So we will show up in Russia. We will support our athletes and cheer them as loudly as possible. And we will keep the equality conversation alive.

The selection to lead the delegation was a high honor, even for an athlete such as King who has accomplished so much throughout her illustrious career. The opportunity only comes around once every two years, leaving a select group to get chosen.

That's true whether it's the Winter or the larger Summer Games and regardless of the surrounding circumstances. But when considering King's star status and her opportunity to help cause change, it was a special chance for a sports icon.

Scott Simon of NPR was of the belief King could have helped spark change with her story and her presence in Russia representing the United States:

Billie Jean King is 70. She has seen tennis become a popular sport with boisterous stars, and gay identity evolve from quiet denial to acceptance and pride. Her presence in Russia may remind people that history can move, sometimes with extraordinary speed, and that people can change. Billie Jean King did, and now, she might change others.

With King staying home, we'll never know how her presence may have impacted the games.