The Daily Gamecock

Column: Outrage over supposed Olympic sexism unjustified, counterproductive

I was scrolling through Facebook the other day and I ran into several friends that were highly upset with what they called, “Sexist Olympic coverage” and while initially intrigued, I quickly became angry.

Hi there, it’s Will, your friendly neighborhood sports editor from a year ago. I’m back, at least for this column. I didn’t think it needed to be written, but my Facebook and Twitter feeds would disagree, so here it goes.

The first instance of this all-out attack on American women came when American Corey Cogdell won a bronze medal in trap shooting. This famous Olympian would have garnered millions of page views on her own for such a prestigious win in such a popular sport, but several news outlets had the audacity to mention that her husband is an NFL player. I was appalled. The article even mentioned that several Chicago Bears players wore shirts in support of Cogdell at their fan fest in front of over 20,000 people. How dare they!

Okay — obviously that was facetious, but similar to the actual reactions of several people that vowed to boycott the publications that made mention of Cogdell’s more famous husband.

As a writer and former editor, I can tell you matter-of-factly that newspapers always pick the headline that will get the most page views. It’s also a fact that the Chicago Bears have far more fans than the sport of Olympic trap shooting (which few, if any of you, had ever heard of before this “controversy").

If you don’t believe me, research newspaper articles about Mutt Lange, the music producer better known as Shania Twain’s first husband. Though he found success in his own right, most articles mention him as Twain’s ex-husband, because doing so increases readership.

Tuesday, I read another perceived instance of sexism. The Associated Press made a headline in which 28-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps and his silver medal were mentioned in a larger headline than 19-year-old Katie Ledecky’s world record. Deplorable, right?

There are few people in this country that are bigger Katie Ledecky fans than myself, (if you don’t believe me, look at my tweets over the past two weeks) but Phelps is the bigger story, period. Phelps is a cultural icon and household name not just in the U.S., but around the world. People that have never seen him race care where he finishes. Ledecky, though currently the best swimmer in the world, has not reached Phelps-level fame. The difference is 12 years and 18 gold medals. Phelps, based on his accomplishments, should and will grab more attention for a paper that lives and dies on page views.

Papers will always put readership before other factors because papers are being phased out. In an increasingly digital age, newspapers are falling by the wayside, and the only way to slow the rapid descent is to write articles that will capture the largest audience. Editors aren’t thinking about how they can subjugate women, and anyone who believes so is the problem.

Contrary to what some of you will think, I didn’t return to write an article putting down women, but instead to bring attention to actual issues. There are some very startling cases of sexism in the Olympics, but apparently we’d rather talk about faux-sexism among newspapers than actual issues. For example, there are over 600 million women living in countries that have no penalty for domestic abuse. In four countries, over 50 percent of women have been sexually assaulted or beaten without any punishment for the abuser. All four were allowed to compete in Rio.

If we move a bit closer to home, we’ll still find some disturbing statistics. In the first six months of this year, there have been 36 reported cases of human trafficking in South Carolina alone. These self-reported victims are just a few of the estimated 27 million people mired in slavery worldwide. Again, we don’t like to talk about that. We’d rather attack AP for having the audacity to believe more people would read about Michael Phelps than Katie Ledecky, or that multiple publications would naively think readers care more about football than trap shooting.

There are several great organizations such as SWITCH and the End It Movement that work tirelessly to end human trafficking in South Carolina and beyond. They do not need your faux-feminism. They need attention and action.

Please, quit looking for problems where there are none. Your self-righteous victimization detracts from the stories of those being truly exploited.