It’s impossible to escape the Olympics. Even for someone like me, who spends 95 percent of my time pretending sports don’t exist, there’s still that one summer every four years when every TV channel, every newspaper, every social media website is overflowing with stories about who won the gold. And this isn’t surprising — the Olympics are one of the few things that can unite the whole country because everyone is believing in and rooting for the same people. Everyone feels the same excitement when any member of Team USA wins a medal. Right?
However, looking into media coverage of the Olympics — and there’s a lot — I see a disturbing trend. It seems like for a lot of people, this excitement is limited to the men in the Olympics. Some of the greatest successes the country has had in Rio so far have been from women — most notably Simone Biles’ record breaking floor routine, where she won by 2.1 points, a bigger margin than all the winners from 1981 to 2012 — combined. And yet if you Google ‘Simone Biles’, the majority of the stories focus on her recent visit from her favorite actor Zac Efron, with some negativity sprinkled in about how hard it will be for her to keep her success going after the Olympics in comparison to other athletes such as Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt.
And this is just one of many examples of sexism in the reporting around the Olympics. When Andy Murray won the gold, a reporter referred to him as ‘the first person ever to win two Olympic tennis gold medals,’ completely ignoring the fact that Venus and Serena Williams have each won four. In fact, it was Murray himself who had to correct the reporter. When Katie Ledecky set the new world record for the 800m freestyle, her success was relegated to a subheading in a newspaper, with the main headline celebrating Michael Phelps’ tie for the silver medal in the 100m fly.
Even when women’s achievements are being celebrated — which isn’t often enough — they are so often referred to in terms of the men around them. Corey Cogdell-Unwin, a bronze medal winner for trap shooting, was referred to in the Chicago Tribune not by name, but as the “wife of a Bears lineman.” Commentators during the 400m swimming medley said that gold medalist Katinka Hosszu only won because of her husband (who is also her coach). And these are just some examples of a disturbing trend that has been going on all summer, and shows no signs of slowing down.
And honestly, I don’t understand this perspective at all. The Olympics is one of the few occasions when the news is full of positivity. For once, we’re able to look at the headlines and see things that make us smile, rather than things that make us sad. This doesn’t have to be a competition only celebrating either the men’s or the women’s achievements — if we celebrate everyone equally, we’ll have twice as many things to get excited about. But even more than that, this difference in coverage is insulting to the women who’ve spent years of their life training for their huge moment only to have their successes pushed to the side. They work just as hard as the male athletes, and they deserve the same respect.