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Is Olympic coverage undercutting women’s achievements?

Posted at 7:19 AM, Aug 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-09 07:19:05-04

NEW YORK — It wouldn’t be the Olympics without getting frustrated at the tape delay, the flurry of commercials or the number of times that commentators inserted their foot in mouth. But this year, the questionable comments about females have frustrated some viewers.

How has Olympics coverage infuriated viewers? Let us count the ways.

1. Women are ‘less interested in the result’

When explaining last month why NBC wouldn’t be airing the opening ceremony live, the network’s executives had lengthy explanations.

They said they wanted to put the ceremony in context. They said it was because they had to put commercials in and that’s hard to do that during a live show.

But the response that got the most attention was from John Miller, the network’s chief marketing officer, who said it had to do with women’s preferences.

“The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans,” he had said. “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. And to tell the truth, it has been the complaint of a few sports writers. It has not been the complaint of the vast viewing public.”

The bet didn’t exactly pay off. This past weekend saw the the lowest overnight rating for a summer Olympics opening ceremony in the US since 1992.

“If we’re lucky, the Rio Games finally will persuade NBC execs their Harlequin strategy is outdated,” wrote Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins.

“Even if you buy NBC’s argument that the majority of the viewing public prefers edited, packaged programming over the vagaries of live sports competition, then ask yourself this question: Why aren’t NFL football telecasts tape delayed and packaged?” she asked.

2. Behind every great female athlete, there’s a great guy responsible for her success

Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu took the gold in the women’s 400-meter individual medley and broke a world record Saturday. Nicknamed the “Iron Lady,” Hosszu smashed the record and NBC showed a split screen of her cheering husband and coach, Shane Tusup.

Fresh off her triumph, NBC’s Dan Hicks’ commentary suggested that “the guy responsible” for the win was Tusup.

It sparked dozens of think pieces and criticism.

3. Female gymnasts are hanging out at the mall

When the heavily-favored US women’s gymnastics team nailed its qualifying round, an NBC commentator said the female athletes who were gathered together “might as well be standing in the middle of a mall.”

To some, it was an insulting comment that would never be made about their male counterparts.

4. Chicago Tribune’s tweet about two-time Olympic medalist as football player’s wife

The Chicago Tribune tweeted a picture of Corey Cogdell-Unrein, who won the bronze medal in women’s trap shooting Sunday. The tweet didn’t mention her name, but called her the “wife of a Bears’ lineman.”

Cogdell-Unrein is a three-time Olympian and had won her second bronze medal.

The headline of the story about her win was: “Corey Cogdell, wife of Bears lineman Mitch Unrein, wins bronze in Rio.” The story also focused on her marriage and how her husband couldn’t travel to Rio because of his training camp obligations with the Chicago Bears.

It was yet another example of how female achievement in sports can be portrayed differently. A study that analyzed over 160 million words from decades of newspapers, academic papers, tweets and blogs found that men are three times more likely than women to be mentioned in a sporting context. Meanwhile women are disproportionately described in relation to their marital status, age or appearance.

The Tribune later tweeted that the headline was an effort to “emphasize the local connection” to the Olympian, who it added is “awesome on her own.”

5. Here’s a comment that’s actually being praised

It’s been said to death that some female athletes play their sports “like a man.”

NBC broadcaster, Rowdy Gaines made a different kind of observation about US swimmer Katie Ledecky, who broke her own world record on Sunday: “A lot of people think she swims like a man. She swims like Katie Ledecky, for crying out loud.”

This one got praise from female tweeters who noted: “YES, NBC COMMENTATOR MAN.”