It’s difficult to watch the grainy video of Janay Palmer without getting a knot in the pit of your stomach. A viral video of a football player lugging his unconscious fiancé around like a garbage bag was seen by millions of Americans, each pixel flickering as a celebrated millionaire athlete hauled his incapacitated girlfriend out of an elevator.
Its a shame to paraphrase the recording that made Clippers owner Donald Sterling the first American professional sports magnate to be banned from the NBA for racist remarks—the full thing is a breathtaking thesis on race and sex in this country.
A still from the NBC coverage of Adelina Sotnikova's surprising winning skate at the 2014 Olympics.
There are two ways to succeed at sports: by being memorable, or by winning.
Note that one achievement does not necessarily imply the other, and that in some sports the two can even be mutually exclusive. In a year’s time, ask the average American which athletes medaled at the bobsled events in Sochi, and then if they can remember which country’s lovably low-ranking bobsled team was the focus of the movie Cool Runnings. (Jamaica’s two-man bobsled team also qualified at this year’s games, ultimately finishing dead last. Now, quick: tell me who won the gold.)
Sad as I am to write this, it must be said: the Olympics are almost over. Part of me is thankful for this, as I’ve watched more hours of TV in the past week than my body or brain can adequately handle. As always, I have found the Olympics to be patronizing, exhausting, and simultaneously bloated and skimpy. And I also know that I will be desperately sad to see them go.
Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan seeming a little icy in 1994. (Photo via)
The other night, I took part in a shouted conversation—as I so often do these days—about Tonya Harding. This time I was in a bar, and the shouting was necessary not in order to make my point convincing, but simply to make my voice heard: a dubstep remix of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” had taken over the room, and conversation was not the order of the evening, but I prevailed—as I so often do when the subject is Ms. Harding.
“I had no idea any of it even happened,” my friend said, referring, of course, not to Tonya’s nearly decade-long career, but to the scandal with which her name has become synonymous. “I mean, I loved figure skating—I was crazy about it—but I grew up in Russia, and they just didn’t cover the scandal there.”
Clare Balding has been a regular fixture on the sports scene since the early '90s. She's a former amateur jockey, and she's one of the few out lesbians in British television. Her coverage of the 2012 Olympics drew rave reviews, and won her a prestigious contract as the face of Channel 4's racing coverage as well as the Paralympics coverage starting next week over on the BBC.
But it hasn't all been a feminist Balding lovefest in the British media.