The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games were over in the blink of an eye. The female U.S. Olympians were arguably the biggest winners of the games, capturing 61 of 121 total medals Team USA took home — 26 of which were gold. In fact, if the women of Team USA were their own country, they would’ve placed fourth in the world medal count.
But what’s a little international sporting competition without some controversy and sexism, right?
You can’t argue that the female U.S. Olympians didn’t accomplish a lot in Rio. The U.S. women’s basketball team made history when it won its sixth consecutive Olympic gold medal on Aug. 21. The rest of the world combined only has three gold medals in women’s basketball.
Female athletes such as sprinter Allyson Felix, gymnast Simone Biles and swimmers Simone Manuel and Katie Ledecky also broke barriers for female athletes, inspiring millions of girls back home by winning a record amount of medals and smashing world records.
But with all this success, sexism still prevailed — downgrading some of the females’ hard-fought accomplishments.
The Chicago Tribune sparked outrage after tweeting an article that focused on Corey Cogdell, who won a bronze medal in the women’s trap shooting event. The tweet neglected to use Cogdell’s name and focused on her husband Mitch Unrein, a defensive end for the Chicago Bears — who, by the way, is not an Olympic medalist. Although the article primarily focused on Cogdell’s achievement, the Tribune couldn’t help but include Unrein and his absence in Rio due to training camp with the Bears.
Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu broke a world record with her performance in the 400-meter individual relay, but NBC sportscaster Dan Hicks was too focused on “the man responsible” for Hosszu’s achievement, her coach and husband Shane Tusup.
And then there’s the way female athletes are expected to behave in comparison to their male counterparts.
Fueled by a lot of emotions after a tough loss to Sweden on Aug. 12, which ultimately eliminated the U.S. women’s soccer team from advancing in the Rio Games, goalkeeper Hope Solo called her opponents “a bunch of cowards” and said, “The best team did not win today. I strongly, firmly believe that.”
No stranger to controversy after facing two domestic violence charges in 2014 and 2015, Solo tried to minimize the backlash to her comments by backpedaling. The damage, though, was already done. On Aug. 24, the U.S. Soccer Federation handed her a punishment that entailed a six-month suspension and effectively kicked her off the national women’s soccer team.
Now, how about Ryan Lochte? Two days after Solo’s sore-loser comments, Lochte made international headlines after a man dressed as a security guard allegedly robbed Lochte and three of his teammates at gunpoint. This horrific story turned out to be a cover-up to a late night of four Olympic swimmers partying.
When the news broke, it was a Loch-mess. Lochte’s story not only embarrassed USA Swimming and the U.S. Olympic Committee, it also embarrassed America as a country and even his mom, who broke the story after he told her this tall tale. Remember when your mom warned you about those little white lies that always come back to haunt you in the end? Lochte found this out the hard way at 32 years old.
Lochte’s sponsors dropped him and he still awaits his punishment from USA Swimming and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
While these two cases are not fruits from the same tree, if Lochte’s punishment is not as severe or intense as Solo’s, it’s complete injustice.
There have been countless instances of athletes blowing up on the microphone during a postgame interview, especially after a tough loss, where they haven’t been punished. It was a heat-of-the-moment statement, and Solo was dealing with the pain of defeat. While I’m not justifying her comments, they weren’t as severe as an international lie and a false police report.
Lochte, who is basically the Johnny Manziel of U.S. Swimming, has become the face of white male entitlement. He got hammered with some teammates and urinated on a gas station. While there are some questions as to whether the security guard actually pulled a gun on the four U.S. swimmers, Lochte and his teammates still lied to cover their behinds.
Solo’s comments are still being discussed, but on a smaller scale than Lochte’s story. And Solo’s received a hefty punishment. Lochte’s name is still on every major news outlet, and that international story still has a long way to go. If Lochte is not given a greater punishment than Solo’s, it comes as a further justification that female athletes are held to a different standard than male athletes.
While the U.S. women won big in Rio, the fight for equality and respect for women in sports is far from over.