Model turned activist


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BEIJING -- Brad Greiner probably stopped traffic, or perhaps even caused an accident or two, when his image was plastered on larger-than-life billboards for Abercrombie & Fitch in Hollywood and Manhattan.

A picture would tell a better story. But Greiner was a water polo player at UCLA earlier in the decade, a 6-6 defender, so there’s no need for additional description here.


This isn’t about Brad Greiner’s modeling career -- he used the name Bradley Thomas in those days -- though the point is that he arguably is receiving more media attention right now than he got when his likeness was splashed all over Sunset Blvd. on those billboards.

The 24-year-old Greiner, a co-founder of Team Darfur, landed in the spotlight Wednesday when his visa to travel here for the Beijing Olympics was revoked by Chinese officials -- just about 10 minutes before Chinese officials revoked the travel visa issued to Joey Cheek, the other Team Darfur co-founder and a former U.S. Olympic team speedskater.

Visas also were yanked for two other athletes who are affiliated with Team Darfur: decathlete Chris Boyles, who lives and trains in Winston-Salem , N.C. and Carlisle, Pa., and Kendra Zanotto, a U.S. bronze medalist in synchronized swimming at the Athens Games, who lives in Northern California.

(To see what a yanked visa looks like, go to Boyles’ blog.)

‘I got the call about 10 minutes before Joey did on Tuesday,” Greiner said during a telephone interview with The Times from New York on Wednesday. ‘I did go to the Chinese embassy in New York City today, but all they said was, at this time it’s been revoked. I’m pretty hopeful, though, that that will change and I’ll be able to go.’

Greiner, who was scheduled to leave New York on Wednesday, had purchased a refundable ticket. ‘I sort of figured that something like this might happen, so I will be able to re-book,’ he said.


When asked what he’s doing to pursue a China travel visa, Greiner referred to whatever behind-the-scenes negotiating is underway between the U.S. Dept. of State and Chinese officials.

“I’m assuming that I’m basically being lumped in with Joey. So whatever discussions are underway about Joey, I’m hopeful that I’ll be lumped into them,’ he said.

Greiner, who was born in Fullerton and went to Esperanza High School in Orange County before attending UCLA, said that he is “saddened” by the revoked visas and word that Chinese officials might be targeting athletes affiliated with Team Darfur who go to Beijing to compete in the Games. “I don’t think that lives up to the Olympic ideals,” he said.

Before Greiner went to the embassy in New York, he e-mailed The Times, responding to questions about how his involvement with Darfur started.

‘I think the first defining moment for me was the protests for Darfur on the UCLA campus when I was a student,’ he wrote. ‘I was also an International Development Studies major, and always found myself gravitating towards writing essays about Darfur and even China’s role in it. Once I moved to NYC, I read ‘What is the What,’ by Dave Eggers and that had a lot of influence on me as well.’

Cheek, meanwhile, conducted more than a dozen telephone interviews before 4 p.m. on Wednesday, from Washington, D.C. The Olympian and activist described the unexpected visa revocation ‘as very personally disappointing.’


‘But the fact that I was denied a visa is more evidence of a much deeper and more systemic effort by the Chinese government to silence any form of criticism,’ he said.

More worrisome, Cheek said, was word in recent days that four Beijing-bound athletes “had been told by their National Olympic Committees that if they remain part of Team Darfur they’d be treated as suspect individuals in China, subject to extra security procedures and scrutiny when they arrive in Beijing.”

China’s last-minute decision to revoke Cheek’s visa -- he was told by telephone on Tuesday, less than 24 hours before he was scheduled to fly to Beijing -- added to an Olympic-sized controversy brewing in Beijing over human rights, freedom of speech and Chinese foreign policy.

Olympics officials in Beijing also have been drawn into the fray because Cheek -– who won gold and bronze speed skating medals at the Turin Games in Italy two years ago and subsequently was honored by the U.S. Olympic Committee as its SportsMan of the year –- is an Olympian who wanted to attend the Olympics.

International Olympic Committee spokesperson Emmannuelle Moreau responded to Cheek’s situation this way: “Visa applications from non-accredited persons do not fall within the IOC’s remit and we are therefore not best placed to answer you on this question.’

And USOC chief executive Jim Scherr told a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday that Cheek’s rescinded visa is “between this government and Joey as a private citizen who’s trying to make his way to these Games.”


-- Lisa Dillman (in Beijing) and Greg Johnson (in Southern California)