Five-Ring Circus

Why Does NBC’s Al Trautwig Refuse to Call Simone Biles’ Adoptive Parents Her Parents?

Simone Biles competes in the qualifying for the women’s vault event during the Rio Olympics on Sunday.

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

The nongymnastics universe finally got to see American Simone Biles in action on Sunday night, and she lived up to the hype. The United States led the field in team qualifying by 10 points—an unheard-of margin—and Biles was the top qualifier in the individual all-around as well as three individual events: the floor, the beam, and the vault. What could possibly tarnish such a moment? How about Al Trautwig, NBC’s gymnastics play-by-play man, weirdly and stubbornly refusing to refer to Biles’ parents as, well, her parents.

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As has been widely documented, Simone’s grandfather Ron Biles and his wife, Nellie Biles, adopted the gymnast and her sister when Simone’s biological mom, who had addiction problems, was deemed unfit. In telling Biles’ story, Trautwig explained that “she was raised by her grandfather and his wife, and she calls them Mom and Dad.” Which is an odd way to phrase things, given that Ron and Nellie are her mom and dad.

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In the moments after his on-air description, many people on Twitter took Trautwig to task. Among those people: Biles’ coach Aimee Boorman.

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The response below, which Trautwig has since deleted, made it clear that his choice of words was a conscious decision rather than a slip of the tongue.

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Despite what Trautwig seems to think, the Biles’ formal adoption of Simone and her sister means Ron and Nellie Biles are Simone’s parents and that Simone is their daughter. This is something that Simone herself grasped at a very young age, as Texas Monthly noted:

At the time, the sisters called Ron and Nellie “Grandpa” and “Grandma,” but one day Nellie sat Simone and Adria down for a talk. “She said, ‘It’s up to you guys. If you want to, you can call us Mom and Dad,’  ” Simone remembered. “I went upstairs and tried practicing it in the mirror—‘Mom, Dad, Mom, Dad.’ Then I went downstairs, and she was in the kitchen. I looked up at her and I was like, ‘Mom?’ She said, ‘Yes!’ ”

This could have been a minor misstep—like a tiny wobble on the beam—had Trautwig corrected himself. Instead, he’s earned the ire of adoptive families everywhere. That’s a full-point deduction, Al.

Update, Aug. 9: Trautwig apologized later Monday, and NBC released the following statement: “We became aware of the situation last night and addressed it with Al quickly.”

Read more of Slate’s Olympics coverage.

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