I was really looking forward to watching the Summer Olympic Games with my kids. As an athlete (marathoner and yoga teacher) and a mom, it’s so amazing to watch them get excited about sports and what they might accomplish some day. To be honest, I don’t think that any of my children have the potential to compete at a world level in any sport save for tantrums, dance parties, and whining, but anything that gets them interested in being active and setting goals rocks.
But, then I started watching NBC’s coverage. The messages have been, well, let’s just say, not appropriate for most audiences.
It started during the opening ceremony where Gisele Bundchen was described by the male announcer as “one of Brazil’s most recognizable exports.” No mention of her accomplishments. She’s a person, not a commodity, asshole. Then, he commented on how emotional she was. Vomit. Of course she’s emotional, she’s at the Olympics, in her home country doing her job for what may be the last time.
There have been the yucky examples of everyday sexism. After the U.S. Women’s Gymnastic team fiercely owned the qualification round, a commentator said they looked like they “might as well be standing in the middle of a mall.” Ummm. No way would you say something like that about the men’s team after literal world domination. How about highlighting how all four competitors on floor scored so high that the U.S. took three of the top four spots? Or Simone Biles’ near perfect vaults, which were among the most difficult in Olympic history and her equally impressive beam performance? Or Madison Kocian’s spectacular bar routine (her only event at the games, which she nailed)? Or Aly Raisman’s amazing performances on floor and vault? Or even how despite finishing third in the round, Gabby Douglas won’t get a chance to defend her gold medal, because the U.S. can only send two to the all around finals? I also think it’s worth noting how the team has great representation of badass women of color. Nope, let’s be cutesy and talk about the mall. I mean, that’s what girls like, right?
NBC commentator Al Trautwig’s now deleted tweet about Simone Biles’ adopted parents not being her parents was insensitive and weird. Her adopted parents are her real parents, fuckwad, not her grandfather and his wife, as you kept referring to them during the games. This not so subtle racism is gross. Fuck you. And why even focus on this when you are talking about one of the most amazing gymnasts at the games? Her accomplishments are not less important than the fact that her mother was an addict.
And then, when Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú won a gold medal and broke the world record in the 400-meter individual medley, NBC sportscaster Dan Hicks called her husband (and coach) “…the man responsible for turning his wife into an entirely new swimmer…”” He is her coach and husband. He is not the person responsible for her medal or her swimming achievements. SHE is the person responsible for her badassery.
Speaking of swimming, let’s talk about the ridiculous claim that badass warrior goddess Katie Ledecky swims like a man. First, trying to diminish the accomplishments of one of (if not the) greatest athletes in the world, because she’s a woman is horrible. Second, she’s a woman, she swims like a woman. And she is amazing. Fuck you.
Other athletes like Corey Cogdell-Unrein, who won her second Olympic bronze medal in trap shooting, are only notable, I guess, because their husbands play football. If she were a dude, the Chicago Tribune would probably celebrate a hometown hero, instead of pointing out that the hometown hero’s wife did something neat. Their tweet didn’t even mention her name. Their headline didn’t mention her sport: “Corey Cogdell, wife of Bears lineman Mitch Unrein, wins bronze in Rio.”
And because Twitter brings all the MRAs to the yard, there’s this dude mansplaining cycling to an injured Annemiek van Vleuten.
Women athletes make up 45% of the competitors at the Rio Games. It should be a great opportunity to highlight to our daughters (and our sons) how women can not only be athletes, they can be the best athletes on the planet. Instead of the media focusing on performance and achievement, a recent Cambridge University Press study shows huge gender divides in the language of sport. Women (and not men) are often noted for their marital status, motherhood, or age, rather than their ability. While men are “the best,” or “dominate,” women “strive” and “participate.” Fuck that noise.
The coverage of the games is not only lacking, it is failing, big time. And I don’t want my kids to think that’s okay. I don’t want to normalize sexism and gender roles in our home. So, for now, while we should be gathered around the TV watching amazing women make history, I’m screening clips without NBC commentary to see if they are suitable for young audiences. And that is an Olympic-level tragedy.
Featured Image Credit: U.S. Gymnastics Team
Other Images: Twitter