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Over-playing the sexism card during the Olympics

We all know who Michael Phelps is: the greatest swimmer of all time, the greatest Olympian of all time and the face of America every fourth summer.

These games, Phelps has gained two more titles: the “fiancé of Miss California USA 2010” and the “male Katie Ledecky” are the latest ways Phelps has come to be known, specifically in the Twitter activism communities.

Social media activists have given these nicknames to Phelps to demonstrate sexism in this year’s Olympic games. Each nickname is a response to a specific case of sexism thus far.

When three-time Olympian Corey Cogdell won a bronze medal, the Chicago Tribune put out the headline “Wife of a (Chicago) Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics.” Almost immediately, the Internet threw a fit over the alleged sexism. One of the most popular responses was, “Wouldn’t it be great if she had a name? You know, like a man.”

The Tribune issued an apology, claiming they were only trying to relate the story to the Chicago sports fans. The Internet fired back that it’s sexist to label Cogdell as merely the wife of her husband when she is a three-time Olympian. Twitter user @Caissie satirically tweeted out, “the fiancé of Miss California USA 2010 won his 19th gold medal in swimming.” Referring to Michael Phelps by this title was an attempt to shine light on problems with the sexist headline.

This wasn’t the only case though. Throughout the Olympic swimming events, fans have been referring to Katie Ledecky as “the female Michael Phelps.” Breaking the world record along the way, Ledecky has earned her third career gold medal so far, making her the top female swimmer in the world right now. Naturally, the activist community has begun referring to Michael Phelps as “the male Katie Ledecky.”

Despite flak from the online community, even more issues have come up. Two NBC commentators have recently come under fire for so-called sexist comments. The first was Dan Hicks’ comment that the husband/coach of an Olympic gold medalist is “responsible” for her success. Hicks responded that in any other sport, the coach receives just as much credit as the athlete, though he wishes he could have better stated it.

An unknown NBC commentator joked that the Team USA gymnasts “might as well be standing in the middle of a mall” as the women were caught on camera laughing following their dominating performance. The Twitter community heavily criticized both NBC commentators for their comments.
All this sexism being brought up begs one question: is media coverage of the Olympics sexist?

No, it’s not.

Despite these four occurrences of what may or may not be sexism, the media is not as sexist as social media would have you believe. Sure, the coverage isn’t perfect. Commentators and journalists are just as bound to make mistakes as the rest of us.

The 2016 Rio Olympics feature 11,339 athletes from 208 countries, 306 events from 38 sports and 17 days of non-stop coverage of every sport and its athletes. There will be hundreds of hours of TV commentating; there will be thousands of articles featuring in-depth analysis. During all this media coverage, it’s inevitable that there are going to be slip-ups, and yes, some of them may come off as sexist.

With all the recent accusations of sexism, it’s clear that the country has begun using the sexism card too often. Yes, it’s important to raise hell when there is obvious sexism, but it’s equally as important not to rush to call someone sexist if they slip up in wording. There’s a fine line between addressing a problem and fabricating it.

TV commentators are on the same global stage as the Olympians. Sure, they aren’t world-class athletes; however, they are required to have a fundamental knowledge of each sport, know about the athletes both professionally and personally and fill hours of TV coverage without much of a script to a live audience of millions.

Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps are both great swimmers. Regardless of gender, all Olympic athletes deserve to be recognized for the world-class talent they possess.

Just as we don’t criticize the athletes for making mistakes in their performances, we can’t criticize the media for slipping up sometimes either.

About The Author

Sam Palmisano

Sam Palmisano is a freshman dual-majoring in economics and marketing. Sam loves kayaking and ping pong. Outside of Eagle News, Sam is a member of the Honors program and Student Conduct Committee, and serves as President of the Palmetto Hall Area Council. His goals are to be a political economist and to one day run for Congress. You can find Sam getting into arguments on social media or playing frisbee on the library lawn.

1 Comment

  1. Yimingzi

    I understand your frustration with activists turning sexism on Michael Phelps. I do not think “an eye for an eye” is a good way to bring about justice. However, you are wrong in saying the media covering the Olympics is not sexist. Anyone who wants to alert society about sexism present in any form needs to address even the smallest examples of sexism. Though not all media members during the Olympics made sexist comments, the examples you talk about are sexist. By calling out these examples, activists are communicating to society that these attitudes are not okay. Of course people make mistakes, but their mistakes were associated with sexist notions of gender roles. By using Michael Phelps as an example, activists were trying to show how harmful and ridiculous these comments were by devaluing female Olympians. Michael Phelps is not harmed by these comments, and they used him knowing he would not be harmed by them.

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