Olympic attention to mental health: Can NBC coverage pivot?

NEW YORK – If NBC’s Michele Tafoya predicted exultation or tears of joy from American swimmer Caeleb Dressel when she questioned how it felt to arrive at his aspiration of an Olympic gold medal, which is not what she bought.

He was content, but hurting. “It’s a truly challenging calendar year,” he said. “It’s actually challenging.”

Olympic athletes, most notably gymnast Simon Biles, haven’t been fearful to specific the psychological and emotional challenges they’ve faced through these pandemic video games, a enhancement which is thrown NBC a curve.

The network that offers the games has been pressured to pivot, and the addition of Michael Phelps to its broadcast workforce turned into a master stroke for unanticipated causes. Yet it really is also well worth questioning whether or not an extreme emphasis on gold is out of contact for what these Online games have turn out to be.

For most of the athletes, it has been an terribly intensive year. Just after instruction with the objective of becoming ready in 2020, the Games’ postponement to 2021 — and the pandemic that prompted it — compelled them to make your mind up if they required to fundamentally place one more yr of their life on keep for what is normally a lonely quest, said Mark Aoyagi, coordinator of the Sporting activities and Efficiency Psychology plan at the University of Denver.


Then they traveled to a lockdown ecosystem to conduct with no their good friends and family members present certainly, they had barely any viewers at all.

That pressure was apparent when NBC related Dressel with his mother and father, wife and sister at house for a discussion soon soon after his swim. He started out sobbing.

In its protection, NBC must make it a issue to talk to athletes about their mental, not just bodily, planning for the game titles, said Hillary Cauthen, a athletics psychologist from Austin, Texas who is on the government board of the Association for Used Sports activities Psychology.

“We will need to lean into this dialogue,” Cauthen stated.

Amongst cable networks and streaming, NBC Common peeks into each corner of the Olympics. By much, nevertheless, NBC’s primary-time coverage is the window by way of which most Us residents working experience the Online games, and that is principally targeted on the medal hunt by American athletes in gymnastics, swimming & diving and track & industry.


By its incredibly character, the Olympics are an athletic competition. There are winners and losers, dreams fulfilled and desires dashed. Though numerous athletes prosper in that atmosphere, Biles’ selection to pull out of the team and all-close to gymnastics opposition is the most notable indicator that for some, the tension will take a toll.

Not lots of tv viewers know that a big variety of competing Olympians fully grasp they have no sensible expectation of profitable a medal. For them, just coming to Tokyo and competing is a joyful accomplishment, Aoyagi mentioned.

“We by no means see that story,” he explained. “Obviously, NBC highlights these that are in medal competition. It can be a extremely cultivated tale that is presented to persons that would not capture the essence of why most of them are around there.”


Molly Solomon, government producer of NBC’s Olympics protection, objects to any characterization of the network’s philosophy as simply winner can take all.

“We often rejoice profitable a silver or bronze and the achievement of becoming an Olympian,” Solomon stated. “That’s our foundational philosophy, our ethos. If you listen to the tenor and tone of our opinions in the opening ceremony, we communicate about for so numerous of the Olympians, that only becoming at the Video games is their crowning accomplishment.”

For NBC Universal, the Olympics are a multibillion-greenback company, and the firm wants stars to entice viewers. That set athletes like Katie Ledecky and Biles in an intense highlight, and the gymnast’s conclusion not to contend has very likely contributed to the network’s disappointing ratings hence significantly. American Sunisa Lee’s victory in the women’s gymnastics all-all around levels of competition on Thursday supplied a improve.

For Biles, the focus turned her from a girl chasing her possess goals to America’s wonderful sports hope.


“We just have to have a grace and kindness to fully grasp what they’re heading via,” Cauthen explained.

NBC’s Olympics host, Mike Tirico, mentioned in a commentary that Biles’ story and the emphasis on mental overall health failed to in good shape into society’s need for prompt final results and a willingness to criticize athletes who really don’t are living up to anticipations.

“Maybe this will help the relaxation of us understand that even nevertheless they crave and produce a whole lot of the consideration, occasionally what we know them for and what we admire them for is not the most significant factor,” he mentioned.

NBC hired the 23-time gold medalist Phelps mainly to increase context to its swimming coverage. As an alternative, Phelps’ activism and willingness to chat about his personal mental health issues has provided a vital aspect to NBC’s Biles coverage. Phelps claimed he recognized how Biles felt she carried the bodyweight of the entire world on her shoulders, due to the fact he felt it, much too.


He’ll continue to keep chatting about the issue, Solomon said.


David Bauder is the media author for The Related Push. Comply with him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/dbauder. Far more AP Olympics coverage: https://www.apnews.com/OlympicGames and https://twitter.com/AP_Athletics

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