This Simone Manuel Headline Overshadows Her Historic Win With Racially Charged Rhetoric


On Thursday, the United States once again starred in the world of Olympic swimming, with two more exceptional athletes taking home the gold for the stars and stripes. The swimmers were Michael Phelps ― not exactly a shocking headline there, what with him having more gold medals than anyone in history and everything ― and Simone Manuel, a 20-year-old Texas native who took home her first gold ever. It was an awesome scene, and one that was definitely not summed up by the worst headline you'll read about Manuel and Phelps. The paper quickly apologized for the "insensitive headline."

The headline ran with a story from the San Jose Mercury News on Thursday night. And for the record, they're a typically exceptional newspaper, but whoever was in charge of this one headline really failed, producing one of the most racially offensive headlines of the Rio Olympics coverage.

There are so many questions I have about this terrible headline. How do you take a story about a legendary Olympian adding to his own record, alongside a newcomer claiming her first gold medal, and turn it sour? Here's an easy way: Salute the iconic Phelps by name, and reduce Manuel solely to her race. Phelps, needless to say, is a white man, while Manuel is an African-American woman. Here's the headline the Mercury News ran with.

The paper has already apologized and retracted the headline, doing so in response to an immediate surge of controversy. In an Olympics that's already been marred by awkward American commentators, a handful of racism controversies, and some wildly sexist moments as well, this headline only added to the questionable coverage of the Games. I was scanning Twitter when the headline initially went out and observed the ensuing controversy. On the one hand, it was nice to see how swiftly and decisively people lodged their complaints and got it changed, but it was also deeply sad to know that such an inflammatory slight took place to begin with, especially in Manuel's moment of ultimate triumph.

Fortunately, the paper did offer a fairly prompt apology on Twitter, saying, "We apologize for an insensitive headline earlier on a story about Simone Manuel and Michael Phelps' medal wins." Given the precise nature of the offense, it might've been nice to note that the headline wasn't just generally insensitive, but notably racially insensitive, but it's obvious that once the backlash began, some folks at the Merc realized they had some cleanup work to do.

In any case, if there's one thing you take away from this incident, let it be this: Simone Manuel. That's her name, and on the day that she secured an Olympic gold medal and everyday after that, that's how you ought to refer to her.

Image: Brit Phillips/Bustle (1)