Friday, August 12, 2016
The Other Olympic Sports: Racism, Sexism, Outing Gay Athletes From Violently Homophobic Countries
Not at the Olympics: "the people who live here." Photo by Tércio Teixeira
Amidst the graft, excess, sniping, jingoism, and social and environmental devastation that is the Olympics in Rio - where so many poor residents have been internally displaced some observers have dubbed it "the city of shame," the poignant presence of Olympic refugees has suggested the alarming normalization of mass exile as a Refugee Nation, and protesters have organized The Exclusion Games because the real ones are "not for the people who live here" - there have been many moments of remarkable drama and athletic perfection. Mostly notable have been the gold-winning triumphs of the two young African-American Simones - the gymnast Simone Biles and the swimmer Simone Manuel. But their and others' real achievements were too often met by stunningly tone-deaf, face-palm-worthy media coverage that repeatedly exposed the rampant sexism, racism and cultural obliviousness of so much mainstream America journalism.
Biles' astonishing performances were met with well-earned praise - some have hailed her the world's greatest athlete - but also insulting lapses, like Fox inexplicably covering not her astonishing floor performance but bad Russian ones from the past and stammering coverage of her difficult childhood and adoption; she quickly shut it down with the concise, "My parents are my parents." Manuel's surprise victory in the 100-meter freestyle - making her the first African-American woman to win an individual medal in swimming - the same night as a Phelps victory was heralded in one blindingly offensive headline: "Michael Phelps Shares Historic Night with African-American." The ensuing outrage brought a change of headline and some suggested improvements, like, "Simone Manuel Shares Historic Night with White Guy." At every turn, the athletes rose above their often-tawdry treatment: After her victory, a tearful Manuel acknowledged "the weight of the black community" and declared, "This medal is not just for me. It's for a whole bunch of people that came before me and have been an inspiration to me. It's for all the people after me, who believe they can't do it." Ultimately, Biles offered the best-ever retort to the idiocy: “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps,” she said. “I’m the first Simone Biles.”
Beyond NBC's high-profile coverage of the two Simones, there was a constant stream of stupid sexist stories that, said one observer, "managed to insult, demean and erase female athletes in a cornucopia of bungles." There were discussions of female athletes' outfits, hairdos, bodies, make-up, love lives, analyses of their friggin' nails, and condescending mansplaining bunk. There were references to athletes as wives-of-NFL-jocks and volleyball matches coming down to "Bikini vs. Burka" and "the man most responsible" for a win - the athlete's coach, but hey not the real-life, tough-willed, strong-as-nails woman herself actually doing it. There was little coverage of the incredible victory and hard road to it - from rape threats to racist taunts - of Brazil's own Rafaela Silva, a Rio favela resident who won gold in judo. And there was way too much coverage of the non-story of gymnast Gabby Douglas' shocking we tell you shocking failure to put her hand on her heart during the singing of the National Anthem - clearly, Serena Williams, Michelle Obama, Leslie Jones could confirm, having nothing to do with the fact that she's an in-the-spotlight black female in America.
Perhaps the most loathsome media indignity was meted out by one Nico Hines, a so-called writer for the Daily Beast who in the most pilloried, pointless, "ethical trainwreck" of a story ventured into the Olympic Village to troll gay dating apps and see how many fake hook-ups he could arrange - while carefully citing his wife and kid so we'd know he's not actually, you know - thus outing possibly closeted LGBT athletes, some from countries where their sexual orientation could get them persecuted, imprisoned or killed. Many noted that Hines' "utter hateful trash," "dangerous arrogance" and "horrifying irresponsibility" put the safety of others in jeopardy, proved "the privacy of men who engage in same-sex activities is pretty much meaningless," and offered a painful reminder that, "Straight people are allowed to ruin your life - out of hatred, out of cruelty, or just because they're bored." "Queer identity and safety," wrote one respondent, "is not a game for your straight writers to have fun with." Hearing the murmurs of outrage, the Daily Beast came to its relative senses, first editing the piece and replacing its click-bait headline "I Got Three Grindr Dates in an Hour in the Olympic Village" with the coy “The Other Olympic Sport in Rio." Then it killed it, issuing a statement apologizing to the athletes "who may have been inadvertently compromised by our story." It ended with, "We were wrong. We will do better." To the first: Yes. To the second: As John Oliver notes in a segment lamenting the decline of American journalism and the concept of accountability, the first Simone Biles will wait and see.