The women’s U.S. gymnastic team is expected to bring home the gold from the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this summer, and apparently Tumblr users are taking on the task of reporting the sport where mainstream media has failed.
Elspeth Reeve at The New Republic laid out how a group of mostly female fans have become bloggers, then in turn become the most knowledgeable people in the game. The “gymternet” is a network of sites and social media streams that connect people to the type of coverage they want if they’re more than channel-flipping viewers. In many cases, fans are frustrated with the casual sexism big network coverage comes with:
When a gymnast was injured right before the 2008 Olympics, for example, NBC commentator Al Trautwig said, “It’s like having a tear in your wedding dress right before you walk down the aisle.” At the 2012 Games, he described Russian gymnasts as “divas” who are “temperamental” and exhibit “petulance to criticism.”
A podcast called GymCastic by Orange County fan Jessica O’Beirne, who works as a librarian, has been pulling big names since its inception:
Her very first guest was NBC commentator Tim Daggett, who was well aware that his network is unpopular among gymnastics junkies. “When you see a broadcast on television,” Daggett confessed, “it’s not being put together for a group like you guys. … NBC is a huge corporation, and it’s a business, and they’re trying to make money.” The way to do that, he said, is to pick “the most dramatic stories out there” and tell them over and over again, “because it’s what the casual viewer wants.”
O’Beirne and other “amateur” reporters like her want more, and are thus taken more seriously by people involved in the actual sport. Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney went on GymCastic to announce her retirement from gymnastics, and felt comfortable enough to relate another anecdote about her experience as a female athlete. She said she was threatened by her coaches after she broke her toe; they told her, “Don’t limp; smile, make sure you just look like you’re fine... Because that’s the only way you’re going to stay on this team.”
Another popular site actually titled The Gymternet was begun by Laura Hopkins, who had previously worked in a law firm and has now been hired by NBC as a gymnastics researcher for their digital broadcast team in Rio for the Games.
She told Reeve that her success came from the network of women and parents of upcoming gymnasts who saw what she was doing. Soon The Gymternet developed into a site that “breaks news and provides injury reports, live blogs and analysis of competitions, interviews with elite gymnasts, and critiques of leotard fashion.”
Anecdotes like Maroney’s about smiling through her pain are less and less acceptably relegated to the shadows: the audience for gymnastics coverage won’t settle for it. You can and should read the rest of Reeves article here.
Image via Getty.