NBC Drops Ball on Coverage: Media Overshadows Female Olympic Athlete Accomplishments

By Brian Klose
Opinion Editor

Representation of female athletics has always been a weakness of nearly every sports broadcasting network. This is no exception for two weeks every four years during the summer Olypmics. Athletes from around the world compete in the ultimate sign of unity and friendship to bring glory to their nation. But rarely do the accomplishments of a nation’s female athletes, especially from the U.S., carry much weight in the media’s coverage of the event. This is especially true for this year’s thirty-first Olympiad, during which the most covered story coming out of Rio was swimmer Ryan Lochte’s vandalism scandal and not the historic performances by American female Olympians.
Early on in the games during the peak of the swimming events, one of the most talked about American athletes was Katie Ledecky, the Bethesda native who earned four gold medals and broke numerous world records. The 19-year-old’s performance at the Olympics was one of the most dominant in the games’ history, cementing her as one of the sport’s greats. NBC, who had exclusive rights to cover the Olympics, did well in broadcasting her races and medal ceremonies, but always mentioned Ledecky as if she was living in the shadow of fellow Olympian, Michael Phelps. Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in history with 22 gold medals, so it was no surpirse that his accomplishments in his final Olympics received more media coverage than those of Ledecky.
The U.S. women’s gymnastics team competed the same week as Ledecky and were just as dominant. Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez, and Madison Kocian won gold for the all around team event, and Biles won gold in three more events. The media jumped on the team’s success immediatley and praised the athletes for its wins and its personality. The group, referred to as the “Final Five,” became iconic throughout the games, appearing on news and talk shows as a team and as individuals.
Ledecky and the U.Sl gymnastics team had significant advantages over their peers in terms of their alloted media coverage. Their prior success and high expectations made them talking points months before the opening ceremonies. Any other competitions featuring female Olympians fell off the map immediately after an event. For example, American triathlete Gwen Jorgenson, who was undefeated in pre-Olympic events, easily defeated defending gold medalist Nicola Spirig of Sweden, but did not receive nearly as much coverage. The US women’s basketball team showed just as much success on the court, winning its sixth-consecutive gold medal and beating their opponents much easier than its male counterpart, but were given little celebration.
Any hope for coverage of less popular events was completely eliminated following the Ryan Lochte vandalism debacle. Lochte, following an reported armed robbery of members of the US swim team, lied to Rio’s local police to cover up his drunken antics, including allegedly unirating on a gas station. Sports media immediatley speculated on Lochte’s situation even before any factual information came forward and consistantly discussed the legacy of the disgraced swimmer, a common topic sports media chooses to latch onto when it feels nothing else important is going on.
It is extremely disappointing that the incredible accomplishments of countless female Olympians fell victim to the male-dominated tendencies of sports media coverage, especially at the hands of an idiotic celebrity-wannabe.

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