(Allyson Felix, Gold Medal Olympian, photo credit)
American women athletes are dominating the Rio Olympics in every way possible — gold medals in everything from basketball to gymnastics to wrestling and judo and swimming and shooting and hurdles and sprinting among so many sports! But who is the media darling of the moment? A guy who lied and his cronies who helped him cover up the story!
Ryan Lochte and his merry band of drunken swimmers has earned a place of dishonor on The List, my periodic tally of the more notorious liars and cheats in the news. Honestly, I don’t know what was worse: Lochte’s fabricated story about being robbed and held at gunpoint, or the ways in which certain media, especially NBC and Matt Lauer, exploited the story for their own gain and kept it going long past its shelf life, giving Lochte far more air time than most of the champion women athletes ever received. Indeed, media coverage of Lochte’s shamefully self-serving misconduct blocked coverage of the fabulous Helen Maroulis winning the first ever women’s gold medal in wrestling.
Lochte is bad enough, but the real villain here is the way in which the NBC team — and the other media who enable them, like the Washington Post — have stoked the story and then done this whole self-reflexive congratulatory thing. So in Sunday’s Washington Post we have a story about how Al Roker allegedly became the hero in this mess by saying to Billy Bush about Lochte, “He lied to you, he lied to Matt Lauer, he lied to his mom….” Honestly, lying to Billy Bush and Matt Lauer is not the most important issue! Ok, maybe his mom. But the real issue is that Lochte’s lies disparaged and insulted the people of Brazil, and he has yet to admit that truth and make a full apology. By allowing his lies to take center stage, the media enabled his self-aggrandizement and perpetuated a story that should have never become so big. The people of Brazil and Rio deserved much, much better. And they most certainly deserve a full-throated apology from Lochte, and no more grandstanding by television stars.
While we’re on the subject of The List, and this is the Olympic edition, while the women have done so well in Rio, there is one woman who must be on this list for the wrong reasons: Hope Solo of the American women’s soccer team. How sad to read her completely outrageous comments about the Swedish team as “cowards” after the U.S. women lost to Sweden early in the game. This example of poor sportsmanship has no place at the Olympics or anywhere else. For being utterly boorish and immature, Hope Solo has earned a rare place for a woman on The List.
While I’m on The List — how about the other ways in which women’s achievement’s in Rio often seemed to take a back seat to Important News About Men. So, we have “the wife of a Bears’ lineman” — Corey Cogdell-Unrein — winning a bronze medal in shooting, and a multi-gold woman swimmer — Katie Ledecky — being hailed as the “Michael Phelps of women’s swimming.” Then there was this newspaper headline:
It got so bad at one point that Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles said flat out, “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.” Beyond comparing these extraordinary athletes to men, or giving credit to their husbands and male coaches, many commentators explored the overall sexism that women athletes must endure, including the emphasis on sparkles and glitter in gymnastics which seems like an absurd way to decorate some of the most muscular athletes in the games.
Washington Post Columnist Sally Jenkins had an excellent article about the sheer dominance of women at these games, but wondered why this does not translate into more attention and success for women athletes all the time. Men’s athletics still dominate the sport/entertainment airwaves. The success of American women in Rio surely has set a new standard for acceptance of women as strong and powerful athletic beings, but the effects two or three years from now in daily life are harder to predict.
For now, however, the American Women can take pride in their great achievements — on the tracks and mats and pools, they set standards that most men could only hope to achieve.
(Claressa Shields 2x Olympic Gold! photo credit)