Team USA’s first gold medal of the Rio games was won by 19-year-old Ginny Thrasher in shooting. Swimming phenom Katie Ledecky beat the world record by more than 2 seconds, a huge margin in swimming. And the women’s gymnastics team is proving to be a dominant force as well. Female athletes have been making strong statements in competition.
But some are questioning what’s being said about women in the Olympics.
While it’s clear men’s sports, the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball, and more, dominate the American sports scene year in and year out, when the Olympics roll around, it seems to be one of the rare places that female athletes are on a level playing field.
But recent coverage of the Olympics has many wondering if that’s indeed the case.
More than 6000 hours of content is being created by NBC through these Olympics, but it may take only one or two seconds of misspoken words to shift the focus from sports to spectacle.
After Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu set a new world record, the camera panned to Hosszu’s husband, Shane Tutsup, who’s also her coach and who’s unorthodox coaching style she’s credited with her success in a New York Time feature.
After her win, as the camera panned to Tutsup, NBC announcer Dan Hicks said, quote "There’s the man responsible," in reference to Hosszu’s remarkable achievement.
The viewing public took to twitter to voice disappointment in Hicks phrasing.
While he said he regretted the terminology, he defended himself saying, "It’s impossible to tell Katinka’s story without giving appropriate credit to Shane."
And while the athlete-coach relationship is one that is regularly discussed in sports media, according to a Cambridge University study, the issue may be larger than that.
Researchers found that men were 3 times more likely to be referenced than women and the language used around women’s sports focused more on appearance, clothes and personal lives while the words most frequently associated with men were "fastest, strong, big, and great."
But 7-time USA Champion in the 800 meter, Alysia Montano, says she learned the strength in femininity at an early age and honors it by racing with a flower in her hair.
The Olympian told KMIR how that came to be: "It happened time and time again when we played, every kind of sport, ice hockey, basketball, football, there would always be young boys that came in and said ‘Your little sister can’t play, we’re gonna hurt her’ and ‘My brothers would say, no it’s fine, she’s gonna play and actually, we’re gonna pick her first.’ And then one day on the very, very first play and they threw the ball to kid and I came flying and tackle him and we slide a bit and I pick up a daisy and put in my hair and said, "And I’m a girl," and from that point on I recognized my strength as a woman."
Montano even raced while 34-weeks pregnant. The track and field events begin Friday.
Experts debate whether the gender language issue is specifically in sports reporting or in society at large.
But with more studies coming after these Olympic games, where there are equal opportunities for men and women, there may be more information regarding that.