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Coverage of female athletes at the Olympics is still terrible

Here we go again.


Michelle Jaworski


We’re more than halfway through the 2016 Olympics, and while coverage of the games got off to a rocky start—particularly toward female athletes—it’s still drawing criticisms of sexism from viewers.

For those watching at home, the media coverage from NBC, which has exclusive TV rights to the Olympics for the foreseeable future, has been a constant source of frustration. It defended its packaging and tape delay of broadcasts because “More women watch the Games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey.” Commentators and reporters have credited husbands and coaches for a female athlete’s achievements, referred to a bronze medal winner as the wife of an NFL player, and commented on how the U.S. women’s gymnastics team stood and talked to each other after they competed early in Rio. Gymnastic commentator Al Trautwig received backlash for how he talked about Simone Biles and adoption, and TV critics blasted NBC for its coverage.

As the criticism grew, some people came to the conclusion that sports reporters and commentators don’t know how to talk about female Olympians; a 2014 study revealed that female athletes get 3.2 percent of network TV coverage while ESPN only allots women 2 percent.

With an equally frustrating second week of competition, that point is only being driven further home—both from critics and the people watching the Olympics. And for some, the idea of gender policing goes well beyond crappy coverage.

The constant stream of abuse toward Gabby Douglas

Gabby Douglas, a three-time gold medal winner in gymnastics, has received near-constant criticism since she started competing in a sport that already has gendered politics and near-impossible expectations for its female athletes (some of them minors), who must wear makeup, perform, and smile. Douglas, like fellow London teammate Aly Raisman, made the team for a second time and the 20-year-old’s return to Rio was framed as a comeback.

Viewers criticized Douglas for how she wore her hair during competition and how her makeup looked, bringing even more gender policing in a sport full of it. She also faced criticism for standing at attention for the national anthem after the U.S. women’s gymnastics team won gold in the all-around competition, the latter which brought back the debate over what to do during the anthem. Douglas responded via Twitter.

(Meanwhile, swimmer Michael Phelps laughed during his medal ceremony for the 200-meter butterfly after he saw his friends shout the traditional Baltimore Orioles “O!”—it didn’t get anywhere near the criticism that Douglas’s stance did.)

Douglas didn’t compete in the individual all-around because of a rule that only allows two gymnasts per country to compete (and Douglas was in third after the team all-around qualification). She watched Biles and Raisman win the gold and silver in the individual all-around, but viewers once again criticized Douglas—this time for what they perceived as a scowl.

Critics suggested that some of the criticism toward Douglas was racially motivated, and Douglas’s mother Natalie Hawkins called the onslaught of comments “bullying.” It definitely got to Douglas.

“I tried to stay off the internet because there’s just so much negativity,” Douglas told reporters after finishing seventh in the uneven bars final. “Either it was about my hair or my hand not over my heart [on the medal podium] or I look depressed. … It was hurtful. It was. It’s been kind of a lot to deal with.”

After hearing about the comments, Leslie Jonesnow in Rio after her Olympics tweets went viral and NBC offered to send her—asked her followers to send Douglas some love like “you showed me,” referring to the push to get Jones back on Twitter after receiving racist harassment.

Andy Murray reminds a reporter that Venus and Serena Williams accomplished a feat before he did

Great Britain tennis player and feminist Andy Murray won his second consecutive gold medal in men’s singles tennis Sunday. Afterward, he did an interview with BBC host John Inverdale, who applauded him for being the first person to win two Olympic gold medals in tennis.

If you’re talking gold medals in singles tennis, sure, that’s an accurate statement. But if you’re talking about Olympic tennis as a whole, there were others before Murray—and he gave them their due credit.

“Well, to defend the singles title … I think Venus and Serena [Williams] have won about four each, but hadn’t defended a singles title before,” Murray replied.

Simone Manuel’s moment in the spotlight tarnished

On Thursday, Simone Manuel made history as the first black female athlete to medal in swimming after tying for gold in the 100-meter freestyle. But her win (one of four in Rio) came with troubling coverage.

First, the San Jose Mercury-News posted (and later removed) a headline reducing Manuel to “African-American” while singling Phelps out by name. And when it came to her emotional medal ceremony, NBC chose to air it more than an hour after it happened.

Phelps headlines strike again

Phelps, as one of the most recognizable names in swimming, commands a large presence. He’s sparked a meme, made a splash in the pool, and he leaves Rio with six medals, five of them gold, bringing his total to 28. He’s pretty much the Katie Ledecky of swimming right now.

Ledecky has had a fantastic run in Rio, winning five medals (four of them gold), and she broke a number of world records—some of them her own. But in one version of the Associated Press article covering Friday’s events, Ledecky became a subhead for Phelps’s lone silver medal win after she broke the record during her best Olympic event, the 800-meter freestyle.

Chinese Olympic diver proposes to his girlfriend after her medal ceremony

Public proposals are a mixed bag for many—and as big as the Olympic stage is, the pressure is on even more for the athletes who receive proposals. The proposal from Chinese diver Qin Kai to his girlfriend, He Zi, after she won the silver in women’s 3-meter springboard diving, raised eyebrows. While witnesses and commentators loved the proposal, it’s nevertheless sparked debate: Was it a romantic moment, or did he steal her thunder?

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