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Save the Schussler outrage for someone more deserving

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Winnipeg speedskater Brittany Schussler took a ‘selfie' with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the Sochi Olympics.

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Winnipeg speedskater Brittany Schussler took a ‘selfie' with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the Sochi Olympics. "I should have asked him to be my Valentine," Schussler tweeted with the photo on Friday.

SOCHI, Russia - Brittany Schussler got caught up in the moment and made a mistake. She’s not a monster and she’s not a political activist. She’s a speed skater and a wife and a Winnipegger.

We need to stand behind her and support her.

Schussler posed for a photo with a political leader and then tweeted the picture. That’s it.

Was Vladimir Putin the wrong guy to smile beside in a picture? You bet. Was it a regrettable choice? You know it and so does Schussler as evidenced by her taking down the selfie from her Twitter account.

Does all of this add up to Schussler being cruel and against human rights? That’s a bit of a stretch, no?

As Canadians we chose to send our athletes to Russia to take part and support these Games put on by Putin. If Schussler is guilty, so is the rest of Team Canada and our Canadian Olympic Committee. So am I. So are you for watching the Olympics on TV.

If we’re going to apply a black and white standard to Schussler, we need to do the same for one another.

Schussler didn’t think through her actions and she’s paid a price for it but the emotional cost has been unfair and over-the-top. She’s saddened and disappointed. I wanted to speak with Schussler on Monday and while she was agreeable to the conversation Speed Skating Canada was not.

In an exchange of direct messages trying to arrange an interview Schussler did say the wanted to explain she is a "nice and caring person," and that she, "would never intentionally hurt or offend anyone."

I believe her. She’s been kind and generous and open the handful of times I’ve interviewed her. Following her disappointing race in the 1,000 metre she told me, "I wish I could have skated better for Canada."

Shouldn’t we save our outrage for someone a little more destructive?

Elvis Stojko, who knows a thing or two about being in the public spotlight and the traps of social media, thinks so.

Stojko came to the defence of Schussler on Monday. Stojko’s wife was also at Canada Olympic House during Putin’s tour and was attacked on Twitter for referring to him as the Honourable Vladimir Putin. Stojko waded into the battle to defend his wife and on Monday he spoke to the Free Press.

"It’s tough being in this position and in the spotlight because the athletes are here to do their job, to train and compete and be focused," said Stojko, a three-time world champion in figure skating and the owner of two Olympic silver medals.

"Then when you want to cut loose and relax a little bit, you see a political figure, we’re in his country and we’ve been invited here. There are certain aspects to the laws here that we won’t agree with, whether it be human rights and so forth. We can speak about them in certain forums and there was a forum for people to speak before we got here. But we’re at the Olympic Games now to talk about sport.

"It’s up to the discretion of the individual athlete to decide how they want to go about it. In this particular situation, just because you pose with someone doesn’t mean you agree with what they’re doing. He was invited into Canada House and he was there to invite us into his country.

"Out of respect for him, and he runs the country, they’re being respectful to him. They’re following etiquette. There’s a forum to speak your mind on certain issues. They can speak their mind but this isn’t really the place for it. This is about the Olympics and bringing everyone together and promoting harmony and peace. That’s the whole point. The opening ceremonies were all about harmony and peace. We want to try and show the positives. The biggest thing, you can’t fix hate with hate."

I’ve made mistakes on Twitter and I’ve deleted them from my account. I’ve also been insulted and had my character, abilities and intellect attacked. I’m good with it. It comes with the territory.

Putin’s anti-gay laws are abhorrent. I have gay friends and family that I love. I want for them the same rights that are afforded me.

Brittany Schussler doesn’t stand in the way of that and aiming hate in her direction is just more hate. And Stojko is right, that doesn’t fix anything.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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