This Headline About Katie Ledecky Shows How Rio Olympics Coverage Can Be Unfair For Women
Katie Ledecky broke her own world record in the women's 800m freestyle event on Aug. 12, clocking in at eight minutes and 4.79 seconds. This is the 19-year-old's second Olympic gold medal in the event; Ledecky took gold in the 2012 Games' event, making her one of only two teenage swimmers to ever claim gold in two Olympics in a row. (The other was Krisztina Egerszegi of Hungary.) Her victory was huge, and she's become a household name, but this odd Olympics headline isn't helping Ledecky out on that front. It highlighted Michael Phelps' silver medal over her history-making win.
The primary Associated Press headline read: "Phelps ties for silver in 100 fly," with the subheading, "Ledecky sets world record in women's 800 freestyle." Some folks on Twitter connected the choice to feature Phelps' less astonishing performance as an example of sexism in sports coverage.
The headline comes on the tail of several other controversial journalism moments, including The Chicago Tribune's decision to refer to trapshooting medalist Corey Cogdell as the "wife of a Chicago Bears lineman" in their headline and commentator Dan Hicks claiming that Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú's husband is "the guy responsible" for her performance at the Olympics. She won gold medals in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys, as well as in the 100-meter backstroke event.
Ledecky is one of several astounding female athletes at the Rio games, where about 45 percent of those competing are women — more than in any other Olympics. Yet gymnast Simone Biles, and perhaps swimmer Lilly King, are the only ones who seem to have broken the "household name" barrier — and the latter not for her performance, but for her vocal disdain toward Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova, who has failed a couple of doping tests.
Of course, in the present case, Phelps is already a household name, and newspaper headlines are designed to grab attention. Having his name in the big letters up front might draw more eyes. Still, the media is partly responsible for who becomes a household name in the first place. This raises the question of whether the media has a responsibility to advance women's equality in sports, even if it means sacrificing a few clicks or paper purchases. Some on Twitter certainly felt that the headline was fair, simply because Phelps is a more well-known name to most.
Ledecky is in a category of her own, essentially competing against herself at this point. She'll be leaving Rio with four gold medals and one silver, and no shortage of headlines — and, er, subheadings.