The 2016 Olympics, games aimed at unifying the nations of the world, has become a source of discrimination and dispute due to the sexist, racist and homophobic coverage surrounding the games.
The Rio Olympics has seen its players set many world records and break barriers. Simone Manuel became the first black woman to win a gold medal in swimming when she tied for the gold with Penny Oleksiak in the 100-meter freestyle.
However, NBC didn’t air Manuel’s medal acceptance live even though she had set a historic record. Additionally, the San Jose Mercury News wrote in response to her win: “Olympics: Michael Phelps shared historic night with African-American.” The publication failed to name Manuel in the headline and characterized her as forcing Phelps to share the spotlight.
This type of coverage is extremely problematic because it diminishes the accomplishments and representation of black athletes competing in the Olympics.
The news site NextShark wrote on Facebook of swimmer Ning Zetao, “Forget Zika Virus – China’s hottest Olympic swimmer is giving the internet yellow fever.”
This headline is both racist and sexist, objectifying Zetao’s looks and making fun of the caricature of a “yellow” skin type. Objectification of both women and men is unacceptable, seeing as these athletes are competing to prove their strength, not their physical appearance.
During a gymnastics event, commentator Thomas Bouhail referred to Japanese gymnasts as “little Pikachus.” This blatant racism is hard to swallow, but unfortunately is too often an occurrence during the Olympic games.
In any case, minorities are not lesser than simply because of the color of their skin. Additionally, women are not inferior to men because of their anatomical differences. The classifications that separate people should be a source of inspiration, not a cause of hate.
Gymnast Simone Biles is the 2016 Olympic individual all-around, floor, and vault champion. Biles has reached heights that many other athletes have never experienced. NBC commentator Jim Watson explicitly compared her to male athletes and said “I think she might even go higher than the men.”
This commentary assumes that women cannot accomplish feats on the same level as male athletes, which is sexist and wrong.
The Daily Mail has called Katie Ledecky, American competitive swimmer and five-time Olympic gold medalist, the “female Michael Phelps.” Why is this type of comparison necessary for people to understand the depth of a female athlete’s accomplishments?
Much media coverage surrounding the Olympics greatly reduces its readership by assuming people can’t see the success of a woman or minority without comparing them to a white male athlete, such as Michael Phelps.
The Chicago Tribune promoted a story on Twitter about trapshooter Corey Cogdell’s win, stating, “Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics.” The fact that Cogdell won a medal with her own skill was viewed as less important than her husband’s accomplishments. The sexist bias surrounding female athletes is simply unacceptable.
Attention centered on Dana Vollmer, competition swimmer and Olympic gold medalist, because she had a child over a year ago. Media attention swarmed around the fact that she was a new mom. This was unfair because being a mother does not diminish your body’s ability to compete or function. Women’s bodies are not automatically useless because they gave birth.
After swimmer Kantinka Hosszu broke the world record in the 400-meter individual, NBC commentator Dan Hicks called her husband “the man responsible” for the win. To some people, a woman’s success is only because of the men in her life, rather than her own talents or skills.
This stereotype needs to end because women are equally as capable of being successful at sports, leadership, writing or any other career.
Homophobia is also present in media coverage of the Olympic games. According to NBC News, Nico Hines for The Daily Beast allegedly went on predominantly gay dating apps to expose closeted LGBT athletes. Not only is this morally wrong, but it is also dangerous because some of the LGBT athletes’ home countries have illegalized homosexuality.
Athlete Ally Executive Director Hudson Taylor called Hines’ actions “dangerous.”
“There are over 200 athletes competing in the Olympics from countries for which being gay is punishable by death,” Taylor said to NBC OUT.
In response to biased coverage, Simone Biles said, “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.”
The overwhelming tally of insensitive comments and coverage shows how disappointing the media and commentators have been. The Olympics is supposed to bring the countries of the world together with healthy competition and good sportsmanship.
Tearing apart and labeling people based on their race, gender or sexuality is compromising the purpose and effect of the games.
Women, men and people of all races are all equally capable of earning a gold medal. Shouldn’t that fact inspire us all rather than make us go at each other’s throats?
The plain fact is that our coverage and commentary of the Olympics is not where it should be in 2016.
But before we point the finger at specific sources, we should consider our own personal biases and work to treat everyone of all backgrounds in a fair and equal way.
Discrimination is not going to disappear unless everyone evaluates themselves on an individual level to see what they can do to make the world a more loving place.