Battle of the sexes
August 9, 2016
Like millions of other people around the globe, this weekend my TV was tuned to Olympic coverage. It was "edge of your seat" kind of programming — a legit mix of awe, suspense and crossed fingers. And so far, I think the media is winning the medal count. They've already captured several golds for misogyny.
For starters, when a Hungarian swimmer smashed a world record, NBC commentator Dan Hicks credited the swimmer's husband, who is also her coach. "There's the man responsible," Hicks said as the cameras showed the athlete's husband.
I'm not suggesting that a coach, or supportive husband, doesn't deserve some credit for the success. But to say he is "responsible" for it is demeaning and diminishes the swimmer's accomplishments. I have never once watched the Super Bowl and, as the TV cameras show a quarterback's wife in the stands, heard a commentator suggest, "There's the woman responsible" for a winning touchdown.
The Hungarian husband/coach wasn't the only one shining in a spotlight that was undeserved. When three-time Olympian Corey Cogdell won a bronze medal in trap shooting, The Chicago Tribune tweeted, "Wife of a Bears' lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics." Which begs the question, did she win this medal because of who she married, or how hard she trained?
On Sunday another NBC commentator mused that the USA women's gymnastics team members "might as well be standing in the middle of a mall." The comment came after several athletes were caught on camera laughing and looking relaxed following the qualifying round.
I get the point the announcer was trying to make — the team seemed carefree, like the athletes had not put much effort into annihilating the competition. Even so, these young women have spent their lives training for Olympic glory. To suggest they looked as if they were shopping for cargo skirts at the Gap diminishes the sacrifices they've made to get to that point. Imagine if the announcer had instead noted the team might as well have been:
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"Brokering a deal in a board room."
"Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize."
"Running for President."
NBC even blamed women for the tape-delayed and five-hour-long opening ceremony, saying the decision was made, in part, to appease women. "The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch the Games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and mini-series wrapped into one," is how NBC Olympics Chief Marketing Officer John Miller explained it.
So basically, women don't like sports, but they like reality TV, and that's why NBC didn't run the opening ceremony live. Never mind that other countries didn't tape delay the opening ceremonies, and I'm pretty sure other countries also have female citizens.
Years of research shows that male Olympic athletes receive far more primetime coverage and speaking opportunities than women. And a recently released study by the Cambridge University Press found that in media coverage of sports, age, marital status and appearance are routine topics when covering female athletes, while men are described in relation to their athletic achievements. Basically, men are referred to as strong, fast or powerful and women are referred to as pregnant, old or single.
I have seen countless sidebar features covering Olympic athletes. When men are featured, it's common for the media to focus on the athlete's training schedule — what he eats, when he works out, and for how long. When a female is featured, the focus is often on how she balances sport with motherhood and the products she uses to keep her hair shiny.
If it's true what they say — sports don't build character, they reveal it — then it would be wise for members of the media to reevaluate both their coverage and their comments.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident, and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.