I’m not an athlete. I hate running. I’m not flexible. I’m not fast. I know I’ll never be an Olympian. But I love sports. I scream at the TV during tennis matches and I adopt every superstition as I watch a baseball game. And, every 2 years I lock myself down for 2 weeks to watch the Olympics.
I consider myself a knowledgeable person, but even I’m continually impressed by the sports I’ve never heard: Steeplechase, curling, handball. I’m fascinated by the 204 countries that participate in the games, half of which I’ve never heard of: Brunei, Comoros, Kiribati, Palau, Nauru, Vanuatu.
I can’t begin to describe my outrage at NBC’s coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Spotty, choppy, and more than a bit self-promotional. I’m an American. I enjoy watching American athletes compete. I enjoy rooting for Americans in all the different sports. But, the Olympics aren’t just about American athletes. They’re about athletes from across the world coming together, for two short weeks, and putting aside their global differences to not just compete, but to promote diversity in sports and across the world.
Thanks to NBC, these Olympics didn’t feel very diverse. I rarely saw an event that didn’t have an American in it. I rarely saw foreign athletes spotlighted. Only during rare circumstances did NBC dare to show me the Russian, Romanian, Chinese, or Japanese athletes during the Gymnastics competitions. Too much time was spent showing me every single heat and semi-final for swimming or track that featured Americans, instead of showing me other sports, ones I may not be familiar with, that were won by athletes from other countries. The host country of Great Britain won 29 gold medals, but I’m certain I only saw maybe three of the competitions they won. NBC has failed to remember that the Olympics aren’t just about who wins and who loses, about who’s American and who’s not. They’re about the world. They’re about the trials and hardships that so many athletes face in order to become an Olympian.
Aside from the obvious stories, like South African double amputee Oscar Pistorius, NBC rarely told me why I should be rooting for the athletes. Previous years coverage gave had more feature pieces on individuals from multiple countries. I could learn about the daunting injuries and the economic challenges they have faced. There WERE athletes who struggled with racial and gender discrimination. There WERE athletes who faced life threatening injuries. There WERE athletes achieving age-defying feats. But, I only knew it after the fact.
In previous years I was taught about the city and the country that hosted the Olympics. London is not as foreign to most Americans as China or Australia but, NBC should have taught me what I didn’t know. They should have taken me back into history. They should have shown me the 4 different and distinct regions in the United Kingdom. They should have taken me into the various neighborhoods of London. They should have used their role as reporters to reiterate the Olympic theme of internationalism. But, after two weeks I learned little, and I still don’t know what the Olympic mascot even looked like.
At times I was even disgusted with the lack of courtesy given to athletes who failed to medal or meet expectations. When Jordyn Weiber failed to qualify for the All-Round gymnastics competition, NBC chose to keep the camera on her, as she cried and came to grips with her new reality. As they interviewed the two USA qualifying gymnasts, they continually panned to her. They followed her. They showed a teenage girl heartbroken and they did it in a way that was disgusting. They did the same thing to the Russian gymnasts two days later as the team collapsed and missed out on clinching the gold medal. They did the same thing to USA’s Morgan Uceny after she tripped on the track during the Women’s 1,500m and failed to finish. It’s one thing to acknowledge an athlete’s disappointment; it’s another to exploit it.
Perhaps my biggest frustration with NBC’s Olympic coverage was its choppiness. At no point in time was I given the opportunity to sit and watch one sport. The coverage was mixed. One minute I was watching swimming, the next I was watching gymnastics, the next it was back to swimming or track. Not all viewers enjoy all sports. But, NBC forced viewers, wanting to see one sport to see every sport, to wait for the conclusion of what they wanted to see, with little indication of when they would return to that venue. They broke up sports, to show uneventful semi-finals that happened to feature American athletes. If I were watching live coverage it would be one thing. But, this was pre-tapped.
My frustration reached its peak last night while I watched the closing ceremony. A chance to celebrate a successful London Olympics, with English musicians and artists. Until 10pm I was surprised and pleased. And then NBC did the unthinkable. They broke into their PRE-TAPPED coverage, postponing the performance of The Who, to show me a preview of a new fall show. NBC spent at least an hour, before showing the closing ceremony, recapping American victories during the games. Had NBC shortened their commentary, had they considered the potential implications of diverting viewer attention for an hour, then they could have shown The Who before promoting their own program and stopped thousands of viewers from turning off the TV. The atrocity doesn’t stop. I learned this morning that they also failed to show approximately 8 songs including this year’s Olympic theme performed by Muse and a song performed by a member of the Kinks.
I enjoy sports. So I will probably continue tuning into the Olympics every two years, but perhaps NBC should not only be concerned with the critiques of their Olympic coverage, they should be ashamed of it.