Tag Archives: athletes

Bias in Olympic Coverage

16 Aug

The Olympics are a perfect place to sit back and watch how (unconscious?) bias filters in to reporting.

Consider who is shown on the podium and who is not.

Consider who is getting airtime and who is not.

Consider how we talk about athletes, and who we hear about (and who we don’t).

Consider who gets heat, for what, and why – and who gets away with it.

I’m talking specifically about gender and race.

Take Gabby Douglas for instance. Godal medal in gymnastics – twice. And she has been called out (among other things) for not putting her hand on her heart during the anthem, and Michael Phelps can laugh during the same anthem without a peep. Hmmm…..

She is Black, and she is female.

It’s a perfect example of the unequal standards and scrutiny that people of colour and females still face (and if you are Black and female… God help you!).

This (and many other examples) are attempts to disregard, undermine, discredit and otherwise take away from the ways we contribute to society. And it goes all the way up to the top! (I’ll write about how Hilary Clinton is treated by the media another day.)

It may be unconscious, but it’s still wrong and it has to stop.

Here is a spoof article about Michael Phelps and his fiancé that is meant to show how differently we comment on and report on the accomplishments of women.

It makes a great point.
Read it and see if you don’t think it’s ridiculous – and then ask yourself if you read it about a man and his female fiancé, if you’d have the same reaction. I bet most of us wouldn’t. Because it’s common – women are still picked apart for stupid things (and that men get away with), and have their bodies, clothing, hairstyles and children pulled into conversations where they are irrelevant at best and distracting at worst.

What’s worse is that we seem to be numb to it; we don’t recognize the inequity and the violation of dignity and worth that underlies this type of reporting (or lack of reporting). Where is the public outcry?

Complacency is dangerous.
Not knowing we are complacent is even more troubling.

We clearly have work do to….

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Copyright 2016 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, and Consultant on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

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Parapan Am Games – inclusion?

12 Aug

The Parapan Am Games started this past weekend in Toronto.

And I find myself wondering, again, why the “para” games are separated and later than the “non para” games.
The Pan Am Games came and went in Toronto amid much fanfare. Traffic was bad, but we heard about the medal count daily and there was a buzz in the air.  Tickets sales were great.

And then everyone left, and life returned to the usual.

And now, almost 2 weeks later, the Parapan Am Games have started.  It feels like the “country cousin” to the city slicker, like the “main event” has already come and gone.

And this makes me sad. And angry.

I used to be a competitive swimmer, so I know a little about the dedication, sacrifice, heartache and pain athletes go through to succeed at their sport.  What says athletics more than someone who beats the odds of a disability to compete and become a world class athlete in their sport?
Why do we continue to separate these athletes from – what one could assume the underlying message may still be – the “real” athletes and the “real” competition?

Why don’t the Pan Am Games (and the Olympics, and possibly other sporting events) practice inclusion and have both able bodied and differently abled athletes competing in events at the same time? Why can’t the 50m freestyle have two events on the same day? Why can’t the soccer field be shared over the time of the games? It would mean the Games are longer, but it might mean more of an equal exposure for (and greater understanding and appreciation of) differently abled athletes, the possibilities that exist for them, and the triumph of the human spirit.

And maybe we would see athletics differently – and funding would increase?
Just a thought.

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Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, Consultant, Author on issues of Diversity and Inclusion.

When Positive Words Exclude

28 Nov

I’m working on a contract with a colleague for Special Olympics Canada. SOC is an amazing organization doing amazing things, and this week I really want to share what I’m reading on their Language Guidelines page.

The language we use (i.e. our choice of words) is an integral component of creating safer and inclusive spaces – at home, in the office, at school, on campus, in the community etc. How we treat people is another key part of creating safer and inclusive spaces. The SOC Language Guidelines are specific to people with intellectual disabilities, but we can take much of them and apply them broadly. One point in particular stands out for me in the SOC Language Guidelines:

“Do not sensationalize the accomplishments of persons with disabilities. While these accomplishments should be recognized and applauded, people in the disability rights movement have tried to make the public aware of the negative impact of referring to the achievements of people with physical or intellectual disabilities with excessive hyperbole.”

Ah. What does it say when we “go overboard” and fall all over ourselves to recognize and congratulate (in this case) the accomplishments of someone with an intellectual disability. The underlying message (subtle, but present) is that we didn’t expect it, or we didn’t think they could do it.  

In almost all of my workshops the conversation turns, at one point or another, to the sentiment that “we can’t say anything anymore”, and that people are too sensitive. What I think this shows is that people are mourning the loss of a culture where we could speak without thinking, and where the onus was on the receiver to ‘suck it up’. Ah yes.

And the challenge of not thinking before we speak is that so many of the things we say (and the ways we act) are based on outdated and deeply held beliefs in society – so deep that we don’t even recognize them – that we (often unconsciously) perpetuate in our words, actions and inactions.  Are we getting too sensitive? Sometimes, perhaps. But we are also becoming more aware of systemic inequities and how these are perpetuated overtly and covertly. Inclusion requires work. Part of that work is thinking more; being more aware.


Athletes who participate in Special Olympics are achieving their personal best and being recognized for it, just as athletes who participate in the Olympics are achieving their personal best and being recognized for it (note that I didn’t write Special Olympics Athletes, put athletes in quotation marks, or write the ‘regular’ Olympics – more examples of inclusive language). In both cases, the athletes’ efforts and accomplishments should be admired and applauded. Period. And if one of these accomplishments catches you by surprise, take a moment to think about why – and use the opportunity to perhaps challenge a belief you may not even know you had.

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Copywright 2013 Annemarie Shrouder
Author, Speaker and Facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion.


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