In much of the media coverage of the 2016 Summer Olympics, it appears as though there are only two types of athletes competing in Rio: Michael Phelps and not-Michael Phelps. If an athlete falls into the latter category, don’t bother confusing readers with names. Just find some other distinguishing character characteristic to reduce them to.
This was how the San Jose Mercury-News decided to share the news to Twitter that Simone Manuel had made history Thursday night. The Team USA Olympic swimmer tied an Olympic record for the women’s 100-meter freestyle and was the first black American woman to win an individual event in Olympic swimming. It was a deeply resonant moment, considering the historical connection between swimming pools and racism in the United States.
But according to the Mercury-News, Manuel was just an African-American who happened to also be present at the same athletic competition with Michael Phelps.
Twitter was not pleased.
The tweet has since been deleted, and the Mercury-News posted an apology where it managed to learn the African-American swimmers’ name.
At least it managed to show photos of Manuel receiving her gold medals. NBC didn’t think the medal ceremony itself was very newsworthy, cutting away to pre-recorded gymnastics footage. Later on, after midnight, the network managed to air the long-over ceremony.
Is it really too much to ask that media covering the Games a) learn the names of non-white athletes and b) show them when they make history? Apparently so.