Getting to the Olympics doesn’t necessarily mean things will improve. A Serbian volleyball player was recently penalized for making a racist gesture during an international competition with Thailand. But Asian American and Asian athletes also have historically faced racist media coverage focusing on their bodies in especially dehumanizing ways, Victoria Namkung writes at NBC News.
Asian American and Asian figure skaters have been the targets of some of the worst coverage—labeled “China Doll” or described as having “the edge, their smaller frames enabling them to spin faster and jump higher”—but Summer Olympics athletes have not escaped. In one case, Namkung describes an NPR caption claiming that Asian swimmers were at a disadvantage because they’re short. The caption was on an image of five-time gold medalist Nathan Adrian, whose mother is Chinese. Adrian is 6’6” tall.
And, of course, it’s not just athletes of Asian descent who are likely to face racist coverage. The 2016 Rio Olympics offered too many examples of problematic coverage, from headlines touting a Michael Phelps win while overlooking Simone Manuel’s historic tie, which made her the first African American woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming at the Olympics; to a newspaper using a photo of Simone Biles to illustrate a column about Gabby Douglas; to Ellen DeGeneres sharing an image of herself photoshopped onto legendary sprinter Usain Bolt’s back, literally riding him. And white women, too got crap coverage—Manuel wasn’t the only woman on the U.S. swim team to have her win overlooked as headlines touted Phelps. So did Katie Ledecky, in a world record performance.
Apparently there’s some effort to improve coverage of women at these Olympics:
But unfortunately, both women and athletes of color are just about guaranteed to be covered with double standards and dismissal, and all too likely to face overtly racist characterizations or treatment.