It's that time again. That glorious time when, like some Winter Soldier, Bob Costas is revived from his cryogenic slumber with a list of buzzwords. (Heartwarming. Inspriational. Dominant. Medal Count.) That time when the nations of the world come together in a spirit of peaceful competition to celebrate what is best about humanity in a display of athletics, precision and poise. And delivering this into homes around the world, is NBC.
Oh, NBC. Sit down. We need to have a long, long discussion about your coverage of the 2016 Olympic Games. Perhaps we'd better just start at the beginning.
The Opening Ceremonies
Frankly, you guys shit all over this. Your Today Show crew's commentary on Brazil's presentation was weak, tone deaf and derisive. I'd hoped you would improve during the Parade of Nations as that can be full of talking points about other countries, their athletes and those stories. Instead, we were reminded every few minutes that the United States would be come in on the letter E because of the Portuguese "alphabet" (it's actually the same fucking alphabet, but the word you were looking for is language), and treated to such ridiculous commentary that I wondered how many bottles of wine Hoda Kotb and Merideth Viera had shared. Particularly when the Tongan delegation appeared.
So all night--and all week prior--we heard about what an honor it is to be your country's flagbearer at the Olympic Games. The media spoke at length about how Michael Phelps earned that honor and he deserved it, and the very act was itself one of the highest honors an Olympic Athlete can receive. When Tonga appeared, the commentators had nothing to say about Pita Taufatofua, his events or what it took for him to get to the Olympic Games. We heard nothing about the traditional garb he was wearing. All we heard about was how pretty he was with his oiled body. He was objectified on the international stage.
As if this wasn't bad enough, Taufatofua would appear on the Today Show where the hosts would once again focus on his body's aesthetics rather than his athletic talent. He handled himself well, speaking on the two decades of work it has taken him to get to this moment. Well, he would have talked about that, had the hosts not been oiling him down and giggling like middle school girls. To add further insult, at one point Matt Lauer grabbed his co-host's hand and dragged it down the Taekwondo fighter's bare chest, chiding her, "You know you wanted to. You know you wanted to." Coconut oil is not consent, people!
And thus began the Rio Games. Sadly, the commentary has not improved.
Announcer Al Trautwig belittled the parents of Simone Biles, saying that since they adopted her they're not her real parents. Multiple times scores have not been posted in the gymnastics events--including Simone Biles' final floor routine score that secured her the All Around gold medal. And the swimming commentators have manufactured drama at every turn.
And while we're on the subject of swimming, there's a big elephant-eared albatross-armed athlete in the room that we need to discuss.
Okay, I'm about to lay down some ranty pants and before I do, I need to make sure something is very clear. Michael Phelps has achieved greatness. He has earned more Olympic medals than any human being in the history of ever. He has matured since the 2012 London Games and it's wonderful to see that kind of growth. What I'm about to discuss is not Phelps' fault at all.
Oh my fucking gods, NBC, could you have any more of a hard on for Michael Phelps? You've set up live-streaming of the goddamn ready room so we can watch him broodingly stare at nothing. I'm fairly certain that Michelle Tafoya would suck him off on live television if you asked her to, because she treats him like no one else. After the US Men's TEAM won its relay, Tafoya focused on Phelps, even saying, "Your team won't mind if you speak for them..." before then turning the conversation to an earlier individual race he swam. (Again, she prefaced with, "Your team won't mind....) Maybe they do. Maybe they're used to him being Michael Fucking Phelps. But you know who might mind? Their friends and families back home.
You spent 20 minutes following Phelps in the warm-down pool, his 200 'fly medal ceremony and an interview package all while flashing a countdown clock to his next race (which was a heat, not one for medal contention).
Meanwhile, Simone Manuel won a gold medal and became the first African American woman to reach the podium individually in the sport. Rather than showing 2 medal ceremonies for Michael Phelps, you could have shown her receiving her medal. But you didn't. You briefly spoke with her poolside, you showed her returning to the warm-up area to an ovation and applause from her team, but that was all you gave her during prime time coverage because you had to get back to waiting for Michael Phelps to enter the pool.
Phelps is a symptom, NBC, of a problem you--and we as a nation--have that values the individual star over the group. It's not the Chicago Bulls, it's Michael Jordan and his team. It's all about Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, Hope Solo... you/we focus on one player in a larger machine. The US Women's Gymnastics TEAM got the gold medal. By a ridiculous margin, I might add. The US relay TEAMS got those medals. And gods forbid those medals be anything but gold. You treated the US Men's gymnastics team horribly You act as though Gabby Douglas not qualifying for the individual all around competition somehow strips her of her London gold medal. Your commentators say that this or that athlete will have to "settle" for the silver/bronze. Or, "she'll be awarded a medal".
No. No one at this level of competition is settling for anything. They are working their hardest, everyone, for this one day, this one moment. And if they are the best that's out there on that given day, they EARN that medal. These people have sacrificed much to get where they are. They put their bodies through hell. All for one more tenth of a point, or half second. How dare you belittle that accomplishment.
Which brings me to this...
Your medal ceremonies have been a goddamn joke, NBC. You haven't shown the silver or bronze competitors receive their medals. Only the US Olympians on top get that honor. Fuck you. Those people from other nations have earned this moment. They, too, skipped school dances and football games and parties like Simone Biles. Some of them, like Yursa Mardini, the Syrian swimmer on the Refugee Team, trained in war zones. While Mardini did not medal in her event, she is no less an Olympian. And someone winning silver or bronze is no less a champion. And a competitor who is not an American is no less worthy of my time.
Sweet fucking Christ, NBC, what happened to you? The Olympics used to be about moments of unity across nations. Athletes from warring countries hugging on the podium. "Go world!" was the slogan. It used to be that you'd watch every single athlete perform during the gymnastics portions. Like the numbers of gymnasts on those teams, so too has your diversity dwindled. You showed one vault from 41 year-old Uzbekistani gymnast Oksana Chusovitina. One beam routine from Romania's only gymnast, Catalina Ponor. Otherwise, it's all USA. You added one or two Chinese and Russian gymnasts during the team competition just so you could show the other nations represented on the podium. During the All Around competition, you showed more, but that's because there were only 2 US gymnasts.
The US has a swelling medal count, but that's not surprising. We've got the money and the societal emphasis on perfection. Show me Figi's men's rugby team who won the country's first Olympic gold medal. Or Majlinda Kelmendi, the judo fighter who won Kosovo's first Olympic gold medal. Tell me that Ellie Downie is going to be okay after that horrible landing on her neck during the team gymnastics qualifier. Report on Samir Ait Said, the French gymnast who broke his leg on the vault. You didn't even mention him!
While you keep chanting on about Team USA, you have forgotten that first word. You've also forgotten that other countries exist. The only anthem I've heard on your coverage is the Star Spangled Banner. What used to be a diverse blend of countries represented on your primary channel has become nothing but propaganda. And that, NBC, flies in the face of everything this tradition represents.
Don't get me wrong; I understand that the 555 athletes representing the United States have friends and family here that want to watch them excel. All of them deserve their moment to be celebrated by their country. (Of course you're limiting even that coverage in favor of a select few you've deemed to be worthy based on arbitrary measures you won't share with us.) However, those 555 men and women are just a percentage of the more than 11,000 competing in the Olympics. I understand that the Parade of Nations is the only time each of these people will be on camera during prime time.
I tune in to the Olympics to see more than myself, to see the best humanity has to offer, not just the best from our country, and not just those at the top of the podium. I tune in to learn about different cultures, different people, different sports, not to see the possibly drunk anchor team try local food or cupping therapy all the while jeering at it.
NBC, I love the Olympics. I want to see more than you're offering on basic coverage. Maybe I want to see archery, or fencing, or the entirety of the synchronized diving. And when I go to the app or website to do so, it's restricted and I have to sign in with my cable provider if I want more than 30 minutes of coverage. These games are about opening up the world, making it accessible. You've failed at this.
You have failed at the spirit of the games.
Get your shit together before PeyongChang 2018. The athletes do their work to improve. So, too, should you.