If it’s true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is equally accurate to suggest sexism is in the ear of the beholder.
And, oh boy, do the Sexism Police monitoring the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro ever have good hearing. And eyesight. They’re listening to and viewing the Five Ring Circus with ears and eyes wide open, convinced that there’s a sexist bogeyman lurking in every sound bite and turn of phrase. Why, if you listen and read closely enough, they’ll have you believing that there’s as much raw sewage and garbage spewing out of the broadcast booth and press box as there is into Guanabara Bay.
I mean, I’ve probably read two dozen articles accusing the media of sexist reporting. It’s to the point where I’m thinking that Slip of the Tongue and Dangling Participles might be new Olympic sports.
If so, we can present the gold medal to Dan Hicks right now, because the NBC gab guy had the bad manners to credit Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu’s world-record performance in the 400-meter individual medley to her coach/hubby, American Shane Tusup, who is “the guy responsible for turning his wife into a whole different swimmer.”
Joining Hicks on an increasingly crowded podium would be a couple of his colleagues at the Peacock Network—NBC’s chief marketing officer John Miller and talking head Jim Watson—as well as Hannah Parry of the Daily Mail in the U.K. and a twit of a tweeter at the Chicago Tribune.
But are we dealing with sexism or thin skin here? Let’s take a sober second look at a handful of the alleged sexism cases.
Dan Hicks: At first blush, yes, his comment sounds horribly sexist. A case, however, could be made that Hicks’s timing and news evaluation, if anything, were wonky.
Verdict: Did Hicks make the coach the story because Tusup is a he and Hosszu is a she? I doubt it. Clearly, in the immediate aftermath of her accomplishment, the focus ought to have been squarely on the Hungarian Hosszu. She was the lead story and deserved to be lavished in praise. Tusup should have been assigned as an afterthought. A sidebar, if you will. Hicks is guilty of a colossal gaffe in editorial judgment. He got it bass ackwards.
John Miller: The NBC marketing poohbah reacted to criticism of the network’s delayed coverage by saying, “The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. 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 miniseries wrapped into one.”
Verdict: Guilty. Must-see TV coming to NBC next season—Real Housewives of Rio. No matter how you slice and dice Miller’s remarks, he’s guilty of sexist tripe of the highest order.
Jim Watson: The United States women’s gymnastics team wowed ’em in the qualifying round and, upon observing them smiling, giggling and glowing on the heels of their performance, Watson said the women “might as well be standing in the middle of a mall.” Yes, Jim, nothing delights a woman more than hanging out with all her mall-rat friends while the menfolk are off doing the heavy lifting in life.
Verdict: Guilty of sexism, as charged. Watson is sentenced to an entire afternoon of traipsing behind his wife (girlfriend?) while she travels from shoe store to shoe store to shoe store with all her mall-rat besties. And, of course, while the ladies are inside slipping in and out of pricey pumps, he must stand outside holding his wife’s purse. Then pick up the tab.
Hannah Parry: Can a female reporter make sexist comments about female athletes? Well, I know gay people who are homophobic and transphobic. So sure. But is it sexist for Parry to write that American swimmer Katie Ledecky is being “touted as the female Michael Phelps?” By way of comparison, consider Canadian soccer star Christine Sinclair, long regarded as the best female footballer on the planet. If I were to write “Christine Sinclair is the female Lionel Messi” am I guilty of sexism? Must I write, “Christine Sinclair is to women’s soccer what Lionel Messi is to men’s soccer?” I’m saying the same thing, only using a different turn of phrase.
Verdict: Not guilty. Parry did not betray the sisterhood. She is comparing Ledecky favorably to the greatest swimmer of all time, which is not faint praise. It is, in fact, the highest manner of praise.
Chicago Tribune: After U.S. trap shooter Corey Cogdell-Unrein reached the podium, someone at the Trib posted this Twitter tease: “Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics.” Yikes. That old “wife of” thing just doesn’t cut it. Not even when the husband plays for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League.
Verdict: Guilty on the lesser charge of making a woefully lame attempt at localizing an international story. I mean, if Hillary Clinton is elected president of the United States and the Trib tweets, “Wife of former President wins White House” I’ll scream “Sexism!” In this case, though, trivializing Cogdell-Unrein’s achievement by linking her to her hubby is more an example of pathetic news judgment than it is sexist.
In summation, your honor, yes sexism has reared its ugly head at Rio, some of it outrageous and some of it exaggerated. And it’s a lot like the garbage in Guanabara Bay—there’s probably more to come.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.