- Women's Beach Volleyball
- Women's Soccer
- anything during Track and Field
|I mean, here they're just jolly. But I assure you, they kick ass.|
It was kind of cruel in a way that went mostly undiscussed. But was also a weirdly negative culture in how NBC covered the Olympics. They would tell you how great the Olympics were, and why they were important for international blah blah blah... But then they really leaned into "everyone who doesn't Gold has failed. Everyone who didn't medal failed you, the viewer, and America. And they owe you an explanation why, even though you've never seen this person before we rolled the mini-doc package on this person 20 minutes ago."
I'm sure they'd point to how kind they were to Michael Phelps, but for every Michael Phelps, there were 20 Kim Zmeskals, who didn't perform the way the pundits decided they would and should, and spent the rest of the Olympics discussing their "failure". It was pretty gross.
At least in gymnastics the athletes generally don't have some vulture waiting for them the second they get off the balance beam, but in sports like diving, you'd have an NBC "reporter" with mic in hand either asking "this medal is so special. But you just lost you mother. What does this mean to you?" Like... not the time. If they want to talk about how this win is a tribute to their mother, fine. But that's not your f'ing business, NBC. Alternately, if a diver did poorly, there was our intrepid reporter shoving a mic in their face asking "so, that didn't go as well as you would have liked. Please explain yourself to America. What went wrong?" All of which NBC should have known was not setting anyone up for success on any subsequent attempts or future endeavors. Andrea Joyce is not there to moderate a performance review.
Add in the not-insignificant "color commentary" by the NBC announcers, which was either conferring deity status upon a 21 year old (and then immediately watching as same 21 year old screwed up) or nitpicking the performance of athletes punctuated with the disappointment and shame those athletes *must* be feeling. Frankly, it's super off-putting, but was the gold standard in sports from gymnastics to figure skating to diving - pretty much anything based on technique.
What was weird was that NBC's approach went more or less uncriticized by anyone else in the media, which leads me to believe - they would have done same. I mean, I remember no think-pieces about "what the hell is wrong with Andrea Joyce?" which was always the question on my mind.
But something changed at NBC since Rio. Maybe it started in the winter Olympics. Maybe it's new producers at NBC Sports. Maybe it's a sense of empathy that evolved during the pandemic. Hell if I know. But this Olympics has been delightfully free of exploitation of family tragedy *except* how it was framed by the Olympians themselves - even if there's been a leading question or three.
A few years ago, NBC thought it would be cute to bring Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski as a pair to do some commenting on ice skating - and while they talked about hopes of athletes and what went wrong, they *didn't* chirp over the entire performance or continually use words like "so disappointing". And, wow. People liked that. Overnight, the old guard was retired and Johnny and Tara became the way things were done.
|the always understated pair|
But there's been inclusion of footage of parents back at home (which is sweet, honestly, and should continue). Softball questions of both winners and losers, which is what every good baseball sideline reporter figured out works best decades ago. And, most importantly, they quit treating Silver and Bronze as badges of shame. "Gee, Sally, you came in one-one-hundredth of a second behind the competition. That Silver has just got to be a painful reminder of how you failed yourself, your family, your team and America. How do you explain this failure?"
And, remarkably, the cameras are showing the athletes congratulating each other.
NBC has always pitched "rivalries" as some sort of Sharks and Jets gonna end in blood set-up, but... it's not. That's generally not how sports work.* You play yourself as much as you play anyone else. When you're not doing well, you can recognize game, but you also need to up your game in order to win. Sometimes you can do that, and sometimes you can't. Getting chirpy is usually because of either exhaustion or because you see the other party doing some bullshit and you're calling it out.
Ostensibly, the Olympics is about international peace and cooperation. Brother and sisterhood. Pitting some cold war logic to the Olympics wasn't great then, and it's genuinely bad now. So, yeah, seeing athletes crossing lines to high-five, fist-bump each other, hug, whatever. Those extra few seconds of footage are actually *important*. That's what sports look like when it's the best of the best. Sure, there's heartache and some pain. Not everyone loves each other. Or knows one another. But it's still people doing all of these sports, not automatons.
And, of course, I very much appreciate that NBC has multiple networks going. But it seems like the 7 PM - 10:30 PM also has been doing a pretty good job with highlights as well as showing exciting stuff happening live (if your definition of exciting is Beach Volleyball and Track). And, not just focusing on Americans. After all, this is 206 countries coming together. If Luxembourg kicks ass in skeet, cool. Show it.
Lastly - you can very much tell things are different at NBC as the narrative around Simone Biles has been human and empathetic. Sure, there's some ass-hats out there whining about Biles stepping aside, but as someone familiar with panic attacks and anxiety - friend, I would not want to be trying for a triple flip during the Vault, either, if I was feeling that settle in.
Anyway - there's another week of Olympics, and that includes some very good stuff.
Now, if we can get the IOC to grow up about some of their dated and sexist policies.
*Javy Baez and the Reds' Garrett being maybe an exception