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Dangerous Intersections at Sochi — An Olympian Speaks Out

Guest post by Seba Johnson

I sit to write this commentary on the eve of Valentine’s Day. Each year, this day of LOVE comes around on February 14th, and this year it happens to fall during the Winter Olympics. How very appropriate. As a youngster I had a love, and that love was ski racing. By the time I was fourteen, I made Olympic history as the youngest alpine ski racer to ever compete and the first Black female alpine ski racer. My heart was filled with the love of my sport.

Before the sport of ski racing entered my heart I had a first love, and that was the pure admiration and respect I felt for animals.  Since birth, I was raised as an ethical vegan. I have never worn nor eaten an animal nor used his or her so-called “by products.”  As soon as I was able to comprehend, I was taught that animals have the desire and the right to live happy, healthy lives just as we humans would like to do. There was never a time in my young life that I didn’t look at animals as thinking, feeling, and loving beings. A little later, in my early teenage years, I would find that oftentimes animals were much more loving than many of the humans I encountered.


Without going into great detail about my own experiences, I’d rather like to speak about those who suffer great deprivation when it comes to the matters of respect and compassion.  Just today I was asked if I was watching the Olympics currently taking place in Sochi.  My immediate response to anything Olympic-related is  all about the controversies surrounding this year’s Games. Those controversies include both abuses of animals and discrimination against LGBT people.

How on earth is it OK to shoot poisonous darts at homeless dogs and cats, otherwise known as “Sochi strays”? This Olympic host country was awarded the Winter Games back in 2007; certainly, a spay-and-neuter program could have been put in place well in advance. This would have prevented the cull of strays and the cruel slow deaths of many adorable canines with hearts as loving as the Olympians who have vowed to rescue and save a life or two. May the international attention to the dogs of Sochi force the International Olympic Committee to implement humane treatment of all future host country’s non-human population. While they’re at it, may the IOC challenge Japan to cease their annual dolphin hunt in Taiji for good, well before the 2020 Olympic Games are to be held in that host country.

What a great advancement that would be toward the eventual end of captivity, when all tanks are empty worldwide. The ocean is the home of marine mammals and where they belong. There is nothing entertaining about watching marine life perform humiliating tricks taught by food deprivation. My heart aches for the beautiful souls imprisoned in tiny water “cells” around the world, and I am thankful that my mother never took us to gawk at their sad and languishing bodies when I was a kid. My only wish is that ALL kids were taught the truth from childhood and learned that marine parks, along with zoos and circuses, are living hells for all animals. I best not even mention factory farms nor so-called “free range” animal cruelty, though the lifelong vegan in me is bursting at the seams to do so.

The best part of these Olympic Games for me thus far has been finding out that the exhibit of captured orcas set to be on display in Sochi will no longer take place – but simultaneously this is also the saddest part, since their whereabouts are still unknown.  They, along with the other orcas who were cruelly snared by hunters, are still unfortunately held captive instead of swimming in the open waters of their natural habitat.

Having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin and having been on the receiving end of hate, I am sadly not surprised that Russia would design an anti-gay law. The ways that we look down on and hurt our fellow animals, as typified by the ill treatments listed above, naturally end up being applied to fellow humans. Homophobia and speciesism, along with racism, sexism, ableism, and any thread of prejudice, are forms of oppression. I am not surprised that the same country that kills stray dogs is punishing love, because love is the opposite of oppression.


It hurts me to the core to know that right now female cows are being raped and artificially inseminated so that humans can eat their young and drink from their udders. It deeply saddens me that someone is committing suicide because he or she has been taunted for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, or that a child is being discriminated against because of his or her color. The list goes on… But we can eliminate ALL oppression by creating a sincere love and respect for ALL living beings.  Each of us must connect to a moral and ethical regard for each human and nonhuman animal until oppression is completely eradicated.

People should be celebrated for sharing LOVE rather than be criticized for expressing it. It is now time for each one of us to decide what type of world we’d like to help create. Shall we create a world of love and acceptance? Or do nothing, be silent, and allow prejudices to hinder our evolution as a species?

Twenty years ago this month, I protested what would have been my 3rd Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer because Norway had just lifted their ban on commercial minke whale hunting.  Today I ask the current Olympians to not only use their bodies for elite athleticism but also use their strong voices while they have captured the attention of the world’s many nations: Speak up for those whose lives your support might save!

Oh, and may the LOVE on this Valentine’s Day weekend embrace every living being, human and non-human, as well as all of our LGBT communities.

Seba Johnson (bio)
1988 & 1992 Winter Olympic Games for the USVI
Twitter: @SebaJohnson

VINE Sanctuary thanks our friend Seba for this essay. Click here to read more blog posts concerning intersections between speciesism and other forms of oppression, and visit the Connections section of our main website for even more thought-provoking analysis and links to further readings. If you appreciate our approach to animal advocacy, please consider supporting or volunteering  for the sanctuary.

25 comments to Dangerous Intersections at Sochi — An Olympian Speaks Out

  • Miriam
    I am so impressed that you boycotted the Olympic Games in Lillehammer. That is exactly what we all must do: put our actions where our mouths are. It’s really easy to talk about what other people should or should not do, and harder to do those things ourselves. I admire your courage, for sure.
  • Marcia
    If only everyone in the world lived in the way described above, all beings would be better off and this planet would be a better place. I also am impressed when people boycott and protest wrongs, especially when they do it at the expense of something they love. Too many either don’t have the courage of their convictions or do not have convictions beyond their own needs and wants. Unfortunately, animals, the truly powerless among us, are usually the last on the list for consideration and care.
  • Seba – your post is SO moving and amazing. I’m no athlete—not now, in my golden years, and never earlier. However,this year I have not watched, nor WILL watch, one SECOND of the Sochi Olympics for the same reasons you’ve stated. I’m proud you boycotted Lillihammer, I’m proud of who you are and what you stand for. Committed animal-lover and vegan—and I wasn’t born that way, I (sadly) had to learn it for myself.
  • lorena elke
    Thank you Seba, for once again highlighting the intersectionality of oppressions; and for spotlighting the horrific impact speciesism has on nonhuman animals. Your voice is so important, not only at this time of the Olympics, but in moving forward toward the liberation of all. For the animals always.
  • Seba, you’re amazing. You inspire me every day- thank you for being so rad! <3
  • Seba,
    It is a great pleasure to read your words! I am not sports oriented but I would definitely watch and support any of your activities in the field.
    You represent the best of humanity and you are a great role model for the children of the world. You give me hope!
  • Raven Perez

    Wow thank you from a dog rescue and one that is not of hetro orientation You inspire me and many others

  • This is a remarkable essay by a remarkable individual. Its profound message of universal love for all sentient beings is spot on. It deserves to be widely read–and heeded.
  • May I publish this, in its entirety, on my blog if I include a link back to yours? This is amazing. Thank you.
  • bravebird
    VINE Sanctuary is so grateful to our friend Seba for writing this essay as a favor to the animals (human and nonhuman) at the sanctuary. We agree that it’s amazing. We hope that anyone who wants to share Seba’s reflections on their own blog will post only an excerpt with a link back to the full essay here.
  • Thank you, I will do that!
  • I woke up this morning to a Message in my inbox from someone I did not know. My immediate response was that of hesitation to open it. This tiny fear stems from my ski racing days as the first and only Black female Olympian which subsequently made me the recipient of hate mail and poison pen letters. To my PLEASANT surprise, this morning’s Message was a heartwarming response to this article! I share this because each of YOUR Comments above have warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for your lovely response Miriam, Marcia, Les, Lorena, Jessica, Susan, Raven, Norm and Stacey. They inspire me to keep writing … and hopefully one day a Book of Memoirs will be published! Thank each of YOU for also being advocates for all animals <3
  • Karen Ahern
    Great job, great words Seba! I miss you in Boston my friend!!!
  • Robin
    Thank you for being so eloquent and passionate about these topics. You are truly an inspiration and I hope too that athletes, performers, anyone in the public eye, will take time to echo what you have written.
  • Samuela
    Good morning Seba,
    Thank you for such an inspiring piece. True – compassion, or lack of it, is the root of most of human disasters: war, racism, animal exploitation, sexism etc. And yes, Love is the way, yourmssage is powerful and graceful, we need more of those! Keep going, you are doing a GREAT job. Thank you.
  • Ana
    Dear Seba, what a wonderful article to wake up to this morning! To hear truth spoken in such a thoughtful an educational way is gold to me! Thank you
  • Mary
    Thank you for such a well thought out commentary. As a vegan, animal rights person, atheist and mother of two bi-racial daughters, I can identify with much of what you said. I’ve seen and experienced much of what you mention. You touched on what vegans and animal rights people often hear – ‘why aren’t you doing something to protest about the treatment of people instead of animals’. Why do people think that concern for animal rights = no concern for human rights? None of us can do it all – we do it where we can. If animal rights had the budgets cancer research has, many of the issues could be solved with $$. We are the underdogs so to speak.

    So once again – I thank you for speaking out. I’m happy to see more and more people are doing so.

  • Lucy Kaplan
    Such a comprehensive and beautifully written reflection by Seba. A privilege to be able to read and learn from this. . .
  • Thank you for sharing this thoughtful story. Your convictions are admirable and inspirational.
  • Lesley Given
    I enjoyed reading what you have written very much, especially the way you have highlighted that veganism is not just a matter of what you choose to eat. It is a commitment to – a hope for – a peaceful and fair world in which all animals (humans included) can use their own lives to express their essential natures.
  • So lovely … I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to each of you who have taken a moment to read and Comment above.

    Karen! I too miss working with all of you on various movie sets back in Beantown … I also miss your warm smile and laughter :)

    Thank you, Robin. I appreciate your kind words. I agree that those who are in the position to effect the masses (or just one person even) should certainly speak up and encourage positive change.

    So kind of you, Samuela. Thank you. Yes indeed … LOVE, compassion and respect.

    Thank you, Ana … I must share that gold with the person who edited my words for me. I am pleased that my article greeted you in such a positive light upon awakening!

    Thank you, Mary, and how wonderful it is that you could relate to much of what I stated. Your children are Blessed to have such a concerned Mother. One day children will be appalled that animals were once treated as they are today.

    I apreeciate that, Lucy. Again, I must give credit to the kind soul who edited my words so that my thoughts would flow effortlessly to the reader.

    That truly warms my heart, Bea. I wrote this from my heart and there is so much more I could have included to provide more in depth background – but then it would have been a bit depressing.

    EXACTLY, Lesley. I am almost offended when a person neglects to live out the full meaning of being Vegan. It is not limited to what you out into your body …

    Again, thank you ALL for reaching out to me. I love that there are so many people in the world today who share this common interest of selflessly helping ALL animals; human and nonhuman.

    PLEASE feel free to keep in touch with me via:

  • Patricia Austin
    Seba Johnson, you are truly an exceptional person, and I thank you for sharing your strength, bravery and love. I would also like to thank Vine Sanctuary for their work and posting this inspirational essay.
  • […] grateful to former Olympian Seba Johnson for her recent essay for Vine Sanctuary’s blog, “Dangerous Intersections at Sochi – an Olympian Speaks Out,” so we’ll pause to let everyone read that before […]
  • Great article! As a vegan endurance athlete I have truly been inspired by all the vegan olympians at this year’s games. The world is most certainly changing, and while it is happening at a much slower pace than desired, every flood first starts with a single drop of rain. Thank you for all that you do!
  • […] athlete and animal rights activist who has been vegan since birth. That feature links to an earlier post by Johnson which I found a wonderful statement against oppression of all animals, human and non-human, […]

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