The reviews coming in on NBC’s coverage of the Olympics are still reviewed. Were they willing perpetrators in a abuse-covering escapade seen the world over? Were they strong journalists working to report the facts, no matter the cost? In reality, they were something in the middle: Earnest reporters shackled by their bosses’ desires to provide an entertaining, not-too-thought-provoking Olympic spectacle. The king stay the king.
That doesn’t absolve NBC of the small things it could have done to improve their coverage, and this is one of them: The network forgot to mention the sexual orientation of Matthew Mitcham, the only openly gay male competing at the Olympics, even after he won a gold medal.
You had an openly gay male athlete competing, which NBC’s website admits is rare. You had the only non-Chinese diver to win a gold medal, doing it with a near-perfect dive, making viewers wanting to know more about this person. It would have taken one of NBC’s two diving commentators, Ted Robinson and Cynthia Potter, all of 10 seconds to mention that Mitcham is gay. You can bet they would have mentioned had he been the first Muslim diver with a medal chance or the first Mongolian. I am not yet ready to accuse NBC of homophobia, since we don’t know exactly why its commentators and producers whiffed on mentioning Mitcham’s orientation. But I will accuse them of journalistic incompetence.
NBC attempted to explain the issue away by saying they don’t mention other athletes’ sexual orientations, but obviously that’s not true. Any time a wife or girlfriend of a male athlete is on hand, or vice versa, the cameras light up. It’s silly.
That said, it’s almost equally silly to accuse NBC of homophobia (which, as you can read above, OUTSPORTS doesn’t do). Far more likely is that NBC didn’t know how to handle what is ostensibly a private thing. An acknowledgement would have been the best way to handle it, but hindsight is 20/20, and one can at least imagine NBC doing this after careful, uncertain deliberation.
Either way, NBC’s decision is based on antiquated thinking. If an athlete is openly gay, it’s cool, TV networks. Say so. Don’t hide it. Who knew the family of networks responsible for Project Runway — quite possibly the most openly gay show in television history — would be so squeamish?