They are calling this the Twitter Olympics because it seems that fans are taking to the web to chat about the competition, athletes and the media. It is wonderful to see so many people involved in such a great event. But it has taken some willpower to keep my fingers away from the keyboard when I happen to see a sexist comment about female athletes or the sports they participate in.
One post really caught my eye. The topic was the US. women’s swim team and their coach(s). The individual stated (with a belittling and derogatory tone) that when talking to media, the women swimmers say “It’s just an honor to be here,” rather than say “I came here to win,” like the men do. He blamed their coaches (which is so silly, but that’s a side point).
“It’s just an honor to be here” is a polite response. Comments from world class athletes, award winning scholars or movie stars for that matter are regurgitated. Media tend to ask the same type of question, and so media tend to get general, very cookie cutter responses back. That’s nothing new. This case is no different.
Winning is a mindset. Athletes who are at the top of their game must prep themselves mentally. Part of that preparation is deciding that you’re going to win. I would bet that if the women who responded with this general but polite answer were asked, “Do you think you’re going to win the gold?” They would respond, “Yes.” That’s what they came there to do.
I felt that way at the 2009 national championships. Yes, it was a smaller stage, but I remember telling my friends and family, “I’m going to win.” However, if a reporter came up to me and asked how I felt going into the championships, I would have responded something like, “I’m very excited to participate. I feel good, and I’m ready to race.” Uh huh, a general response. But, people close to me, who I’m most comfortable sharing my goals with, knew what I came there to do. And that’s just what I did.
This person’s comment did make me question something, however. Is it socially expected for women athletes to take the polite and less abrasive route by responding with, “I’m just honored to be here?” Likewise, it is expected for male athletes to be bold and identify their goals publicly?
It appears that each response is cookie-cutter to their respective gender. I do hear more men than women identifying their goals on camera. I hear more women than men simply saying they are happy and/or proud to be in attendance at the Games. On the other hand, I have seen the opposite. For example, the U.S. women’s soccer team said they came to win another gold and Carmelo Anthony said “we’re just trying to enjoy the experience,” before stating that he didn’t want to comment on what it would feel like not to win gold.
Being humble is nothing to scoff at. Neither is being bold. But I must admit that it is refreshing to see women athletes, who are capable of winning, come out and say that they came to win Olympic gold. If I saw more of that as a young athlete, and understood that being sure of myself was expected, maybe I would have called out my own intentions in 2009. It’s also refreshing when male athletes (especially the USA basketball team!) express their feeling about being a part of the Olympic Games. It is a powerful and humbling experience, and it’s okay to admit it.
Although this comment was frustrating, I am oh so happy the derogatory statement wasn’t about nudie pictures or the lack of clothing worn by female athletes. When we bring up issues about the social construct of sport (such as how athletes respond to media) or how well commentators are covering a women’s game (like the Solo/Chastain issue), it only moves things forward. These cases talk about SPORT, not sexiness. It couldn’t be more refreshing!