Sexist Olympic coverage: Lady athletes have ladybits edition

Last weekend, I had the great fortune of seeing the US women’s water polo team play Italy at Olympic Park in London (the USA won). My sister, who lives in London, had a spare ticket to the semifinals, and she asked me to go along with her to see the USA-Spain match followed by Great Britain versus Spain.

I grew up watching her play water polo, which she did for a decade, first in club teams and then for her college team, and while I don’t understand the minute details of the game, I can watch a water polo game and know what’s going on, which is more than I can say of most sports besides the sports I’ve done myself (I did try water polo once. I nearly drowned).

What I do know about water polo is how hard it is. I remember how totally wiped out my sister would be when she came home from practice, or how she would sleep for fourteen hours after coming home from a tournament. Between the swimming, the treading water, the grappling with opponents, and the holding oneself up above the water to the waist in order to pass the ball around, I really do think that water polo is one of the most demanding sports in the world. My sister and her teammates were so strong, and so fit, and so tough. Their bodies were so powerful: big broad shoulders from swimming, strong arms and hands that could pitch the ball – heavier than it looks – half way down the pool, legs that could, oh, I don’t know, kick the living crap out of an insolent younger sister if she ever deserved it (she usually did). I was always in awe of the things my sister and teammates could do with their bodies.

So you can imagine my surprise at this New York Times article about women’s water polo which, instead of talking about what water polo demands of a player’s arms, shoulders, hands, or legs, focused on boobies. Boobies, I say!

This article, about the use underwater cameras in water polo games, explains that sometimes, cutting to underwater cam means that viewers catch a glimpse of boobies! The author of this article could have used this as an opportunity to talk about how rough water polo is, or how swimsuit technology hasn’t yet provided players with suits that don’t rip or stretch away from their bodies. Instead: boobies! Tee hee hee!

And look, you want to talk about nudity in sports and have a giggle about it, go right ahead! I enjoyed that sex in the Olympic village article as much as the next person. But I’m really confused about why this article only focused on women’s water polo, or only on water polo, for that matter.

It does mention men’s water polo, but only to say that men’s games, which also feature underwater cams, do not have “the same sort of family-friendly television issues.” I am confused. Why would men not have “the same sort of family-friendly television issues”?

The American men’s coach is quoted talking about the grabbing that goes on in men’s games:

“When I was playing, there was a Hungarian guy and his method of guarding was to reach between my legs and grab me and pull me down,” Schroeder said. “He’d be smiling and have his other hand up in the air, but for me it was a battle just to survive.”

Don’t imagine for a moment that a game that involves this kind of action doesn’t also involve the risk of viewers catching a glimpse of penis. But men don’t have family-friendly television issues? What am I missing here?

And like I said, why limit it to just water polo?

Why doesn’t this article talk about the risk of seeing diver Tom Daley’s butt when his Speedo comes half off after a dive? Seriously, this photo has been all over the place in the last few weeks. If we’re talking about the risks of underwater cameras, why wouldn’t we mention Tom Daley’s butt?

The answer is that this article isn’t really about underwater cameras, or about water polo. The New York Times had a chance to write an article about the American women who play one of the hardest sports in the whole damn world. And instead, it opted to write about boobies.

These women are phenomenal athletes. They have a really good shot at a gold medal today. They deserve coverage of their sport – and coverage of that coverage – that amounts to more than “tee hee, boobies!”

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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