I was certain that the San Jose Mercury News tweet was a spoof.
I read it three times. Stunned.
Then I went to their Twitter page, where I read the apology. I breathed a sigh of thanks that Ed Zitron had the presence of mind to screen cap the tweet, which had (of course) disappeared.
We apologize for an insensitive headline earlier on a story about Simone Manuel and Michael Phelps' medal wins. https://t.co/ykWvcddaKf
— Mercury News (@mercnews) August 12, 2016
Read that again.
Headline. Headline? This wasn’t just a poorly written tweet?
The BBC understood how to write a tweet that matched the photo:
The first black woman to win Olympic swimming gold, with the first Olympian born this century to win individual gold pic.twitter.com/0fAIvsyWci
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 12, 2016
Manuel won the gold medal Thursday night in the women’s 100-meter freestyle. She tied for first place with Canadian teenager Penny Oleksiak. Both swimmers now hold the Olympic record of 52.70 seconds.
But there was an even bigger slap: NBC did not broadcast the medal ceremony.
— Melissa Green (@ProfCritic) August 12, 2016
— Essex J. Porter (@EssexKIRO7) August 12, 2016
Given the symbolic nature of this win — and the state of racial relations in the U.S. at the moment — the oversight is unconscionable.
In the past, lack of access to swimming pools and public beaches meant that many black Americans were denied the opportunity to learn how to swim. Intergenerational fear of the water stops their descendants from learning even now.
Here’s the deal: this isn’t a one-off example of tone-deaf media. Nor is it restricted to the west.
This Thursday fiasco follows Saturday’s tone-deaf commentary from NBC:
"There's the man responsible for turning his wife into an entirely new swimmer…" REALLY, NBC?
— Charlotte Wilder (@TheWilderThings) August 7, 2016
Newsflash: it was Hosszu in the pool. It was Hosszu who smashed a world record. But her husband is the one responsible for it? That's sexist
— Lauren Rankin (@laurenarankin) August 7, 2016
— Rachel Clement (@RachelEClement) August 7, 2016
There was Sunday’s sexist tweet from the Chicago Tribune:
— Laura Keeney (@LauraKeeney) August 8, 2016
@dmrider still didn't include her name in headline. *Head. Desk.*
— Doug Johnson Hatlem (@djjohnso) August 8, 2016
And her husband had nothing to do with her accomplishment, the bronze medal in women’s trap shooting. That was her second Olympic medal, but the article focused more on the Bears than her Olympic success.
The paper walked back the tweet:
— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) August 8, 2016
Then there’s this from the Daily Mail (just look at the original headline, captured for all eternity in the URL):
To bring attention to the sexist pandering, we have Caissie St.Onge:
The fiancé of Miss California USA 2010 won his 19th gold medal in swimming.
— 🗽 Caissie “Pretty Scared, You?” St.Onge (@Caissie) August 8, 2016
On Monday, NBC forced announcer Al Trautwig to delete his tweet saying that American gymnastics star Simone Biles’ adoptive mother and father were not her parents.
The tweet was in response to his on-air comments after NBC aired a profile about Biles. Trautwig said that she “was raised by her grandfather and his wife and she calls them mom and dad.”
— Jen #thatwomaninMichigan Talley (@jentalleydesign) August 8, 2016
Biles is adopted.
On Tuesday, the BBC stepped in it, too. Thrice.
— NoMorePage3 (@NoMorePage3) August 9, 2016
The second instance was on BBC radio. An on-air personality tried to make a joke about Somalian pirates when reporting on their sailing win.
— Hamza Mohamed (@Hamza_Africa) August 11, 2016
And the third instance Tuesday was a TV personality:
BBC apologized to viewers after tennis commentator Paul Hand urged “kiss cam” operators to refrain from showing a gay couple. “Let’s hope they don’t go on to two blokes sat next to each other,” Hand said.
On Wednesday, the government “distributed pamphlets titled ‘Olympics without racism‘ in stadiums. It sounds like far too little, far too late.
Here’s Canadian CBC commentator Byron MacDonald, referencing 14-year-old Chinese swimmer Ai Yanhan, later Wednesday night. Unknown to MacDonald, his mike was live.
CBC Byron MacDonald Olympic swimming comment "went out like stink and died like a pig". Wait… What!?! pic.twitter.com/k9BfDFKgjK
— Jonathan Wagner (@JoniWagner) August 11, 2016
How to explain the lack of cultural awareness?
What we are seeing (or hearing) at the 2016 Olympics reflects the way newsrooms report on women athletes. In other words, this is S.O.P.
Analyzing over 160 million words from decades of newspapers, academic papers, tweets and blogs, the study [from UK’s Cambridge University Press] finds men are three times more likely than women to be mentioned in a sporting context, while women are disproportionately described in relation to their marital status, age or appearance.
The research also shows the way women are differentiated by gender marking, both in terms of naming the sport itself (Wimbledon ladies‘ singles) and the athletes participating (woman golfer).
We’re also seeing a legacy of global racism.
The Olympics audience is larger and more vocal than that for most individual sporting events. That attention brings opportunity.
The only way to effect change is to make the need for it visible.
For that visibility assist, Twitter, we thank you.
As far as the fourth estate is concerned, it’s way past time for you to get with the program. (I’d lay odds those sexist tweets, like the other comments, originated from men.)
Featured image: Flickr CC