NBC Defends Shiffrin Cover, Suggests Critics’ Sexism

NBC has offered a full defense of how it covered skier Mikaela Shiffrin’s shocking Olympics outburst, going so far as to suggest there’s sexism involved in criticism that he was cruel in his portrayal of his emotional response.

NBC cameras focused on Shiffrin for the majority of the time as she sat sadly on the course with her head bowed for more than 20 minutes. The network aired a raw interview where she fought back tears and said she questions everything she’s done for 15 years.

For the second consecutive Olympics, the emotional health of athletes performing on the biggest stage has become a topic of discussion. The experiences of gymnast Simone Biles and tennis player Naomi Osaka last summer were fresh on the minds of NBC critics, and the online feedback has been fierce.

As one response on Twitter said: “Show empathy.” NBC, said another, was “shaming” Shiffrin – “torturing” her. “The relentless hype machine”, wrote one reviewer, “has claimed another victim”.

No — NBC was doing its job, said Molly Solomon, executive producer of NBC’s Olympic coverage.

“We have an obligation at this time, as the broadcaster of the Olympics, to cover the moment,” Solomon said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday night. “There is no script when there is a wipeout on the slopes or a fall in figure skating. We watch real people with real emotions in real time and we did everything we were supposed to do.

Shiffrin’s performance was huge news, she said – the Games’ biggest story so far.

“I’ve thought about that a lot, and if Joe Burrow or Matthew Stafford stays on the sidelines 22 minutes after the Super Bowl on Sunday, you can bet the cameras will stay on them,” Solomon said.

“It’s 2022 and we have a double standard in women’s sports coverage,” she said. “Women’s sports must be analyzed through the same prism as men’s sports. The most famous skier in the world has not finished her two best events. So we’re going to show her sitting on the hill and analyze what went wrong. You bet we are.

As much as fans like to rejoice in triumph, disappointment in sports — or any other endeavor — is often the most compelling story. “More people relate to grief than anything else,” ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said on “Pardon the Interruption” Wednesday.

It was evident in an interview Shiffrin gave to NBC after she spun in her first Olympic race how much that weighed on her. She apologized to viewers: “I’m sorry this was the performance I did today,” she said.

Speaking with NBC’s Todd Lewis after Wednesday’s race, Shiffrin’s eyes filled with tears.

She guessed, she said, “the last 15 years, everything I thought I knew about my own skiing, slalom and racing methods.”

At the same time, critics questioned NBC’s role in pressuring Shiffrin, who was anointed as one of the presumed stars before the Games even started. In a segment that aired ahead of her second race, former ski racer and now NBC analyst Lindsey Vonn said, “This is a must-do situation for Mikaela. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

After the race, Vonn tweeted that she was “disgusted for Mikaela Shiffrin but that doesn’t take away from her storied career and what she can and will accomplish in the future.”

Biles, the star gymnast who emphasized mental health in athletics in Tokyo last year when she pulled out of several events, tweeted heart emojis directed at Shiffrin on Wednesday.

She also retweeted a comment by writer Charlotte Clymer, who said “shaming people just because they didn’t perform well at the Olympics seems like the opposite of why we supposedly have the Games. Olympics in the first place”.

NBC pointed out that Shiffrin was a world-class athlete enriched by sponsorship deals with her face sporting billboards.

If NBC was playing a waiting game, it wasn’t the only one.

“Let’s all remember that Mikaela Shiffrin is a professional athlete who has won 73 times and (a) three Olympic gold medals,” Solomon said. “She is one of the greatest alpine skiers of all time. She is 26 years old and incredibly accomplished. So, for all of us, of course, she will be one of the centerpieces of the Games. I think she would want that.

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Follow Associated Press Media writer David Bauder on Twitter at http://twitter.com/dbauder

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