Connie Chung worked for CNN at the time, hosting Connie Chung Tonight. Martina Navratilova is a former tennis star, current tennis commentator. Extra note: Navratilova was born a citizen of Czechoslovakia (then a Communist country). She defected to the U.S. when she was 18, in 1975, seeking political asylum - she had already been told by Czech authorities that she was "becoming too Americanized" - and became a U.S. citizen in 1981. This interview took place in 2002.
Bold emphasis is mine.
CHUNG: All right. I'm going to read what was said, a quote from that German newspaper. Quote: "The most absurd part of my escape from the unjust system is that I have exchanged one system that suppresses free opinion for another. The Republicans in the U.S. manipulate public opinion and sweep controversial issues under the table. It's depressing. Decisions in America are based solely on the question of how much money will come out of it and not on the questions of how much health, morals or environment suffer as a result." So, is that accurate?
NAVRATILOVA: Well, that's pretty accurate. I mean, I was talking about the Bush administration making a lot of environmental decisions, again, based on money pandering to the people that perhaps help put Bush in the office. I was talking about a particular amendment that I know about. There was a vote that was about education. It was a good bill. And then they try to sneak in that Alaska Wildlife Refuge drilling. It's like, by the way, we're going to drill but we don't really need to know that we're going to do it.
CHUNG: But what about that one key sentence, I think, "the most absurd part of my escape from the unjust system is that I've changed one system that suppresses free opinion for another?" You're trading one regime for another. I mean, that's I think one of the main quotes that raised so much ire.
NAVRATILOVA: Well, obviously, I'm not saying this is a communist system, but I think we're having -- after 9/11, there's a big centralization of power. President Bush is having more and more power. John Ashcroft is having more and more power. Americans are losing their personal rights left and right. I mean, the ACLU is up in arms about all of the stuff that's going on right now.
CHUNG: So you were or weren't misquoted in that particular -- you know, regarding that particular sentence of trading one regime for another?
NAVRATILOVA: I don't think I said it exactly in that context. I certainly didn't mean that I'm here in a communist country and that I can't be what I want to be. However, when it comes to personal freedom as a lesbian, I am getting more squished here than I would be in Europe or in...
CHUNG: In Czechoslovakia.
NAVRATILOVA: Well, Czechoslovakia, in a communist country, they sent you into the asylum. This is a whole different story.
CHUNG: Can I be honest with you? I can tell you that when I read this, I have to tell you that I thought it was un-American, unpatriotic. I wanted to say, go back to Czechoslovakia. You know, if you don't like it here, this a country that gave you so much, gave you the freedom to do what you want.
NAVRATILOVA: And I'm giving it back. This is why I speak out. When I see something that I don't like, I'm going to speak out because you can do that here.
And again, I feel there are too many things happening that are taking our rights away.
CHUNG: But you know what? I think it is, OK, if you believe that, you know, then go ahead and think that at home. But why do you have to spill it out?
You know, why do you have to talk about it as a celebrity so that people will write it down and talk about what you said?
NAVRATILOVA: I think athletes have a duty to speak out when there is something that's not right, when they feel that perhaps social issues are not being paid attention to. As a woman, as a lesbian, as a woman athlete, there is a whole bunch of barriers that I've had to jump over, and we shouldn't have to be jumping over them any more.
CHUNG: Got you. But sometimes, when you hear celebrities saying something, do you ever say to yourself, I don't care what so and so thinks, you know. Yes, go ahead and say whatever you want to say. But you're not a politician. You're not in a position of government power
NAVRATILOVA: No. And I just might do that. I may run for office one of these days and really do make a difference. But...
CHUNG: Are you kidding me?
NAVRATILOVA: No, I'm not. One of these days, hopefully. But when you say go back to Czech Republic, why are you sending me back there? I live here. I love this country. I've lived here 27 years. I've paid taxes here for 27 years. Do I not have a right to speak out? Why is that unpatriotic?
CHUNG: Well, you know the old line, love it or leave it.
NAVRATILOVA: I love it and I'm here and I'm trying to do my best to make it a better place to live in, not just this country, but the whole world. And, you know, I'm doing my little part. And I'm just a tennis player.