It was suggested many times that defending gold medalist Missy May Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings may not manage to bring it home again because of aging. They just had birthdays, turning 34 and 35. Even after they won, media continued to belittle the strength of their win asking them if being older had slowed them down and made it harder. Didn’t they feel challenged because they were older? Correct me if I’m wrong. They did just win the gold, right? Enough already! I get that the shelf life of an athlete is counted in dog years, but when winners compete, they do it in whatever body they have. As Tim Gunn would say, they make it work, and they win. Sometimes, when women do make it work, that is not to their advantage either, being considered too beautiful and ultimately, a distraction. And trust me, it’s more than a LoLo thing. One male commentator reported that he had a hard time keeping up with the beach volleyball match when Brazil was playing claiming, and I quote, “sensory overload.” The reply from the other commentator? “I’ll bet.”

If such defeatist language regarding age and sex were not enough, there are all the other insulting, patronizing, and just awkward things that have been said in the past two weeks. This has been amplified by a series of World Olympic Committee decisions and wildcard invitations to the games. Take for example the only woman of Afghanistan to compete in any event, Tahmina Kohistani. She was identified as “other” when she hit the blocks of the track for her event, head covering and all. Before the race even began, it was made clear to the listening audience that she was just there symbolically and not to be taken seriously.

The same for Olympic rower, Hamadou Djibo Issaka of Niger, a country that has no access to open water, just began his rowing three months ago and was sent to the Olympic stage to stand before the world and represent his country. In the day’s recap, they emphasized how he was dead last, how he struggled, how he probably wouldn’t have even crossed the finish line had it not been for the encouraging British crowd cheering him on. And then they announced that he had come in a whole 100 seconds after the winner, and how he just barely made it out on the water. Immediately, I thought to myself, “He only came in a minute after the winner who has been doing this for years? And only 60 seconds after the last professional competitor? What were they doing wrong?” From the commentator’s point of view, it was all part of a faux inspired moment. That segment has come on several times through different news stations, and never once did I hear it mentioned that with the proper training, this guy could actually become good at this. Because, that is not the point. They are practically the butt of an inside marketing joke. They have been discussed on this world stage as a backdrop, not a true success story.

Except, it happens sometimes organically. The “underdog” occasionally has its day. The one with all the visible limitations who has every card stacked against him comes out on the bright side, even in the midst of a subjective firestorm of wrought comments. Oscar Pistorius of South Africa is a prime example. A double amputee since childhood, Pistorius competed in the Special Olympics in 2008, but advocated for more. He had his chance this year, with a special approval. Commentators dug in deep, ranging from low-key addressing him as an out-matched disabled guy to a competitor with an unfair advantage due to the bounce of his prosthetic running legs. Still, suggesting that he was lucky to get this far and would probably loose, they reminded all of us loyal viewers that it was just a miracle to see him compete at all. And when he did NOT come in dead last, when he advanced instead of heavily favored and able-bodied runners, they retracted a bit of the dismissive tone and jumped on the historical band wagon.

Among some incredible and triumphant moments, the use of tremendously disappointing and culturally insensitive language for an international competition of this magnitude has tried to dim the lights on some of the world’s athletic champions. As a facilitator and consultant for diversity training and marketing, I encourage NBC news and sports commentators to participate in a training on the subjects of ablest, ageist, nationalist, gender discriminatory and offensive language before they head to Brazil. I do not wish to be subjected to such tasteless buffoonery in South America.

If you found yourself cheering for an underdog, who was it and why? Did you ever feel the urge to silence the commentators during the Olympics? What was your WTF moment?

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  1. I didn’t fully watch the Olympics. I catched some of it here and there only because a relative was all gong ho about it but I do recall over hearing some of the things you mentioned such as “flying squirrel” and the comment about the gymnast peaking at 16 etc. and I remember thinking what’s that about but I didn’t read too much into it. This article pretty much sums it all up. And let’s not forget having to be subjected to Bob Costas botched face from all that plastic surgery and Botox he seemingly is the next Dick Clark!

  2. I totally agree with you on the commentary. Another thing that irritated me was the interviewing of the winners. On a few occasions they interviewed the losers just because they were Americans. What happened to be above any and all biases in the interest of fairness and competition? At the last Olympics an Israeli won a gold medal and it was the first I believed for that country. Lo and behold it was given prominent feature by almost all the commentators because it was a one of a kind thing. This Olympics featured one unique winner and there was no interview with this person. Could it that this winner was Black and male, was from the small country of Trinidad and Tobago and he was as quiet as a lamb. This 19 year old man won the javelin competition beating out the heavy hitters in the world. He was also the second person from the Western Hemisphere to win the gold at this event. The last person was an american who did it about 52 years ago. This is a very remarkable achievement and yet the Olympics organizers and the commentators never gave this young man the credit he deserved. To me it was a slap in the face to the people of that country and it showed that even at the Olympics all countries are not treated equally.

    • @WarrenEvans:

      He was Grenadian. NBC did a large feature video and an interview afterwards. The only thing they did wrong was call the nutmeg on our flag a cocoa pod.

    • @WarrenEvans: Well said, Ok I am from Trinidad (The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago) and Yes, we must be more proud than the rest of the world, But…Keshorn is 19, from a tine fishing village on a tiny island, and was able to rattle the world’s best into slipping off their game. Didn’t anyone want to gain some insight into the mind behind that ability? He is a humble, decent, loving youngster who only the month before won the World Junior…one month…before that he was even more completely unknown. On his departure to the world’s he was given..javelins, so he could compete! He flew to the Olympics carried, with the team,by Caribbean Airlines for free or would never have been able to pay for the flight…he beat the best because of who he is as a person, the other competitors simply couldn’t pull it together and crumbled under the pressure…and the 19 year old handled it like a seasoned pro…

  3. I agree with a majority of this article which is why I watched the games online live when I could. It’s just better to watch the athletes do what they do instead of having to hear the commentators. In regards to the flying squirrel Bela and his wife gave that name to Gabby because of her ability on the uneven bars to fly higher than any of her competitors, not the media. The media took it and ran with it.

  4. I particularly wasn’t a fan of the opening ceremony on NBC. Bob Costas showed his ass and his racist, xenophobic comments were disgusting. To bring up Uganda’s Idi Amin in context with Winston Churchill like the latter was some saint was deplorable to me. Not to mention the blatant greenwashing of tyrant corporations throughout

    • @yolo: We can’t even begin on the green-washing and the healthy eating promo’s by corp sponsors!! We just can’t!! It has always been clear that with any marketing device since newspaper, to radio, tv, and social media, audiences can be bought, but it is so blatant and down right heavy handed and odd sometimes.

  5. THANK YOU! I absolutely HATE listening to Ato Bolden commentate for track & field. His commentary is so annoying.

  6. Agree 100% with this article.

  7. I completely agree with this article!! I was upset about the same thing while I was watching. The commentators did not have the heart and soul of the Olympics in mind during these games. I especially agree with the silver and bronze aspects of this story. Instead of saying that an athlete won the silver or bronze, they would say that they lost the Gold. This was said a lot for Cullen Jones when he won the silver in the swimming competition. However this was not said when Michale Phelps won silver or just didn’t plum make the cut. They were devastated! Talking about how sad a situation it was. With minority athletes well you may have made it to the podium but you still lost. It was disgusting. I won’t even get started on the Gabby Douglas and Jordan Weiber fiasco. It was like they didn’t even want Gabby to win and they didn’t even think that she would place!! The opening ceremony wasn’t the only disappointment in the games to me, the commentators are at the top of my list!!

  8. My wtf moment was in gymnastics during the vault competitions. The whole time the guy was talking about how much better mckayla was than everyone else and that all the other gymnasts must be intimidated just being in her ethereal presence. When a gymnast from Romania did a really good vault they started talking about how much older she was than everyone else (only 24!) and he started picking apart her vault. When mckayla did her vault and landed on her butt, he just stayed quiet. The one male gymnastics commentator is the worst! He had such an American bias it was kind of annoying and a little sickening. Nice to know I wasn’t the only one to notice.

  9. Kershon Walcott from trinidad and Tobago,gold medalist for javelin..check him out.

  10. Great article …. I read this earlier. I was watching gymnastics and told one of my girlfriends that little Russian girl who got silver I think in the all-around was boo-hoo crying even though she got SILVER …. in the OLYMPICS! Same goes with the whole team …. they looked sad as all get out.

    I’m 99% sure many of them who “came in dead last” were just happy to be there …. especially the rower. I saw his story as well.

    • @KenyaBee: You have a good point. These girls feel like crap when they are not rated #1. And the commentators as well as coaches can sometimes make them feel much more fragile. Then, these are the young people hailed as role models and examples of success. Do we really want young people hearing and feeling all that negative feedback and enforcing low self esteem when someone is not on top? a mess!

  11. Awesome article! Competition seems to equal mean spirit these days, as some of the competitors were even expelled from the games for nasty insensitive tweets and what not. Our culture gets meaner as the years go i.e. bullying youngsters to death. What’s sad is this mentality is celebrated i.e. countless so called reality shows. It needs to stop!

  12. Much of the Media coverage overshadowed the accomplishments of many of these athletes at the Olympics. It’s sad to see that many of these athletes who got the Bronze or Silver Medals made life changing accomplishments before our very eyes and yet were not recognized for it. The media were merely doing the job that they were told to do. It’s sad. But in our hearts as Jamaicans, Chinese, South Africans, Americans etc….. the real story was told when that gentleman Oscar Pistorius representing South Africa ran in the Olympics. Scratch that, he WON. He epitomized what the Olympics was all about. Great Article!

  13. The Olympics, is a farce; tragic comedy, and will ultimately go he way of the dinosaur. But before it becomes extinct it will continue to evolve into a corporate whore mongoring institution to further widening of the social and economic gap between those who believe they are superior intellectually, socially, and of course athletically and those of us who simply want to compete for the sake of “honor” and “goodwill”. It will ultimately be used as a tool to dishonor, discredit, and disregard other people of this world. Hunger Games, here we come.

  14. “As a facilitator and consultant for diversity training and marketing, I encourage NBC news and sports commentators to participate in a training on the subjects of ablest, ageist, nationalist, gender discriminatory and offensive language before they head to Brazil. I do not wish to be subjected to such tasteless buffoonery in South America.”

    I seriously could not agree more with this article and this last statement. I LOVE the Olympics and seeing athletes at the top of their game from all over the world, take part in an enjoy and compete so fiercely is truly amazing. It’s disgusting how those who do not get gold are treated, silver and bronze (hell even 4th) are still marvelous athletic feats. I truly love the olympics and the commentators and news coming articles being written on the olympic athletes nearly destroyed the experience from me. I mean do we even need to get into how the hype over Gabby’s hair was mostly a manufactured issued of the media or how the gymnastics commentators kept calling Mustafina- the Russian gymnast- a “diva” and saying how bad her attitude was, but later when commenting on Gabby Douglas who she lost the gold to, she was extremely complimentary, of course they didn’t show that interview. This coverage was abysmal.

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