Newspaper Refers to Simone Manuel, Historic Gold Medal Swimmer, Simply As an 'African American'

Image via AP
Image via AP

It’s hard to keep track of all the instances of idiocy on display by reporters and commentators covering the Rio Olympics, numerous as they are. The San Jose Mercury News has waded into the already crowded field with this headline, attached to a story about Simone Manuel’s historic gold medal Thursday night:


When I first read this, I figured it must have been a terrible mistake: Some inept intern’s greasy fingers slipped before s/he could finish writing “Simone Manuel Makes History As First African American To Win Individual Swimming Gold,” because that is what she did.

But that can’t be what happened, unless “Michael Phelps” was just a heinous misspelling of “Historic Win,” since his name had no business in the headline in the first place. Michael Phelps is great and all, but the story is predominantly not about Michael Phelps. It’s about Simone Manuel, a 20-year-old Stanford student who tied for first in the women’s 100m freestyle in a dramatic nail-biter of a race.

The Olympics are a stressful time for journalists, who are under enormous pressure to throw up stories as results roll in, but the phrasing of the News’ apology implies that this was no error, that this was the intended headline for the piece, and that it was found to be a tad off base only in retrospect.

Next came the editor’s apology, and even that managed to shoehorn Phelps in there.

The original headline on this story was insensitive and has been updated to acknowledge the historic gold medal wins by both Simone Manuel and Michael Phelps. We apologize for the original headline. The story has also been updated.


You’ll also note that the person alongside Manuel in the original photo is not Michael Phelps, but Canada’s Penny Oleksiak, who tied Manuel for the win. Is anyone running this thing?



Olympics: Simone Manuel shares historic night with some white guy.