Two-time Olympic gold medalist and U.S. alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin stumbled three times at the Beijing Olympics. The NBC broadcast quickly focused their cameras on Shiffrin’s emotional reaction to her defeat. For more than 20 minutes, NBC was fixated on her as she sat on the ski slope with her head down.
In the end, we will never know for sure what exactly caused Shiffrin to stumble, nevertheless we can analyze how her emotional defeat was covered by NBC. Some may believe NBC was solely doing their job, however I believe the media amplified this high pressure situation for Shiffrin.
For the sports industry, the topic of mental health is no stranger. Some athletes are attempting to prioritize their mental health. Last year, gymnast Simon Biles dropped out of the Tokyo Olympics due to mental health reasons and not being able to perform to her standards. Also, tennis star Namoi Osaka withdrew from the French Open to save her mental health. Both cases brought attention to the ever growing issue of mental health and unrealistic expectations created by the media.
“I know this all too well. I’m sorry you’re experiencing this! people suck…. damned if you do damned if you don’t,” Biles replied to Shiffrin’s Instagram post. “But just remember how AMAZING you are, we’re all cheering for you, proud of you, love & support you!”
-Simone Biles (@simonebiles) February 17,2022
The pressure on athletes has been more intense now than ever. Athletes are under continuous public gaze which can cause them to feel strenuous pressure to compete at unrealistic expectations. After seeing more instances of athletes withdrawing due to these reasons, I believe it is time to acknowledge how the media directly influences the amount of pressure placed on an athlete.
However, some believe NBC was doing their duty as a news broadcaster. According to PBS, the executive producer of NBC’s Olympics coverage, Molly Solomon, said they were only doing their job. “We’re watching real people with real emotions in real time and we did everything we were supposed to do,” said Solomon.
There needs to be a line drawn between sports covering athletes emotions vs stepping over a boundary. Not only did NBC cover over 20 minutes of Shiffrin sitting on the sideline with her head down, but they also continued by airing an uncut, raw interview of Shiffrin confessing to be rethinking her choices for the past 15 years.
These young athletes continue to perform under incredible pressure, however we have no right to expect them to do so. We need to continue to bring awareness to the importance of mental health and get these players the media coverage they deserve that doesn’t cross boundaries or apply strenuous pressure on them.