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Race and U.S. Olympic gymnastics coverage

July 31, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
Are television commentators giving less attention to Gabby Douglas, the black American gymnast, than to the other girls on the Olympics gymnastics team?

Those are the rumblings in some corners. A blogger at The Crunk Feminist Collective (yes, yes, I can hear it already. I look forward to your comments) mentioned that commentators on Sunday night paid less attention to Douglas advancing to the all around competition than they did to the U.S. favorite, Jordyn Wieber, who is white, being knocked out of the running. Aly Raisman, another white U.S. gymnast, will compete in the all-around instead of Wieber.

Despite the silly blog name, I think the blogger may have raised some interesting points about how the national media frames the stories about Olympic athletes and what it does and does not say about race. Gymnastics has traditionally been dominated by white athletes, unlike other sports like track and field, which are heavily dominated by black athletes. There are probably a lot of reasons for that, not least that gymnastics is a more expensive sport than most and there are fewer black American families that can afford the training for their children. Every gymnastics family makes a lot of financial and emotional sacrifices to get a kid to the Olympics.

I haven't paid too much attention to the feature stories on the individual gymnasts this year, but Douglas appears to be a top performer with a charming personality that will probably make her a crowd pleaser when the all around competition rolls around. Some of the commentary notes a bit of a problem with the focus on Douglas's great smile and bubbly personality as opposed to, say, her brains and her top gymnastics skills. Douglas's coach calls her "The Flying Squirrel," an appellation that also does not sit well with some of the bloggers since it references an animal.

Wieber was the favorite going in to the competition and there were photos of her on every magazine and sports section in the lead-up to the Olympics. That may have something to do with the focus on her disappointment as opposed to Douglas's success. Still, I'd have to agree that more coverage of Douglas and her great gymnastic skills would be highly welcome.

Do you see a problem with the coverage of Wieber and Douglas and Raisman?

 
 

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