Ordem, but not Progresso

Caipirinha.jpgCaipirinha

Make simple syrup (boil 1/2 cup of sugar in 1 cup of water, chill). Squirt small amount into glass with two lime quarters and muddle. Fill glass with crushed ice, then add 3 oz cachaça. Stir well.

By now, we are a week into the 2016 Summer Olympic games. Going into the event, plenty of stories emerged about poor water quality, concerns about Olympian safety and security, and controversy over the ban of a potential powerhouse. As the Games have unfolded, Americans such as Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, and Simone Biles have entered the water cooler conversation with their heroics. Meanwhile, Hungarian Katinka Hosszu, Poland’s Magdalena Fularczyk-Kozlowska & Natalia Madaj, and Australia’s Cameron McEvoy & Cate and Bronte Campbell, among numerous others, have taken center stage. Thus far, the performances on the pitch, mat, or body of water of play have been exemplary. However, NBC’s coverage has been far less so.

This is not a complaint about tape delay, that’s something we’re just used to in the Western United States. It’s not even a complaint about the excessive commercial breaks. NBC is a business and Walmart is contributing much more to financing the broadcast than I. I can’t really complain even about the odd omissions of portions of the events. (If we’re not watching the rowing event live, is there a good reason why we enter the event in progress with the first fifty meters elapsed?) No, my complaint, like that of many others, is the way of the coverage.

Wednesday night, we were treated to several swimming events. As I tuned in, Kazakhstan’s Dmitriy Balandin pulled away for an improbable gold from the eighth lane. The women’s 100 meter freestyle semifinal was next. Normally, NBC has shown a strong U.S. bias, focusing on second-place finisher Josh Prenot, but as the women lined up for the first heat, we were introduced to Australia’s Bronte Campbell, half of a sister act. American Simone Manuel received as much of an acknowledgement as Japan’s Miki Uchida, France’s Charlotte Bonnet, or the host, Brazil’s Etiene Medeiros. While this should be a reflection of the emerging worldliness of our coverage, after the next heat was shuffled through quickly with an introduction of Bronte’s sister, Cate, we were treated to a profile of the next event’s eventual winner, Ryan Murphy.

The mini biopic had all the pathos you’d expect from NBC’s Olympic coverage, but what made Murphy worth the extra attention and not Simone Manuel? Enough was made of Josh Prenot’s time at Cal, but what of Manuel’s college experience at rival Stanford? Much was made of Cate Campbell’s form at 6’1” and how her form is so different than her 5’10” sister, but how does Manuel’s 5’10” frame fit in? For that matter, why are we so concerned with their heights and frames when Murphy, Phelps, and Ryan Lochte’s physiques are secondary to their “stories?”

I would find it disingenuous for NBC, a media outlet that rightly calls Donald Trump out for his racist and misogynist comments, to intentionally highlight white male American athletes over their teammates, but I know I’m not alone in questioning the bias. Ideally, NBC is aware of the output and can address it quickly, but it is my hope that they spend the next four years before Tokyo doing some soul-searching, recognizing where the bias exists, and addressing it accordingly. The Olympics should be a celebration of the world’s athletes, of any gender or orientation, but if we’re going to have a bias, it best be a color bias of red, white, and blue.

Ultimately, the presentation of these games remind us on a very public scale that disparate impact is very real and can reflect very poorly on a business.

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