Athletes put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to the Olympics, but for winning female competitors, NBC commentators might as well give credit to a penny they found in the parking lot or a four-leaf clover stuck in their sports bra. That’s the finding of a study done by University of Delaware professor James Angelini, who pored over years of NBC Olympics commentary with a team of researchers and discovered any discussion of women athletes during events mainly focused on luck, while talk of male athletes was on skill. If women lost their events, then it became about physical ability and their commitment to the sport. When men lost, the commentary focused on the success and skill of their competitors.
Mentioned in the study are recorded primetime hours from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 Winter Olympics. Angelini and his team graded the commentary for each gender and ethnicity on several factors, including mentioning luck, physical ability, intelligence, strength and commitment. Angelini also noted that in the 2010 games, 75 percent of athletes mentioned were male.
In a separate study, the researchers also discovered that NBC paid far more attention to American athletes, which isn’t that surprising. Angelini said that the coverage did go farther than just national pride. Also, commentators tended to mention more about physical skills when talking about African-American athletes, intelligence when covering Asians, and commitment and composure while covering white competitors.
Since the 2012 London Games are fast approaching and this is the Twitter era, call NBC out if you see them making these completely avoidable and tacky comments. Maybe they’ll realize that keeping their jobs takes some skill in addition to a lucky break.