In the opening days of the Sochi Games, American viewers thrilled to the slopestyle exploits of Sage Kotsenburg, the snowboarder who won gold after eating chips and watching Fight Club. Here’s how NBC introduced the lovable Kotsenburg to its primetime audience.
The night after Kotsenburg’s triumph, the mellowed-out, crystal-brandishing Jamie Anderson took gold for the United States in women’s slopestyle. This is how NBC introduced Anderson.
You can probably spot the difference. Kotsenburg is 20 years old, lives in Park City, stands 5-foot-10, and weighs 165 pounds. Anderson is 23, calls South Lake Tahoe home, is 5-foot-3, and weighs … well, it’s unclear how much she weighs.
NBC spokesman Christopher McCloskey confirms that these on-screen bios comes from the network’s graphics department, and not from a world feed. If the network did want to provide comprehensive physiological statistics, it could easily get them from the official Sochi 2014 website, which provides heights and weights for male and female Olympians. On the Sochi site, Kotsenburg is again listed at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, while Anderson is 5-foot-3 and 119 pounds. For some reason, NBC doesn’t want you to know that last stat.
To be clear, NBC is far from alone in treating the weights of male and female athletes differently. College athletic departments, for instance, often include weights for men’s teams but not for their female counterparts. As Ben Rothenberg noted in a Slate story about women’s tennis, when the weights of female athletes do get published they are often laughably implausible. Rothenberg argued that the problem here is less that women are fudging their measurements and more that their weight is being treated as a statistic in the first place. He wrote, sensibly, that “there’s no compelling reason for us to know how much Maria Sharapova or Caroline Wozniacki really weighs.”
The same goes for Jamie Anderson. But if we don’t need to know Jamie Anderson’s weight, then we also don’t need to know Sage Kotsenburg’s. By treating men and women differently, NBC is sending a dubious message: that even the fittest women on the planet should be insecure about their bodies.