Spotlight on Sports – Do Race and Gender Impact the Degree of Social Media Backlash?



image taken from


Welcome back Spartans! As we begin to muscle through the start of the semester, a persistent longing for the freedom that summer vacation provides looms over us like a dark cloud. Luckily, there’s still time to get settled and shift gears before midterms sneak up on us.

If you’re one of the countless people who watched the 2016 Olympics, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil over summer break, then you probably remembered the memes and scandals that flooded everyone’s social media. My favorite Olympic memes are the snapshots of Olympic athletes at the perfect moment.

But not everything about the 2016 Olympics was cheery. A few athletes created controversy as the games progressed. Ryan Lochte found himself in hot water when he lied about being robbed at gunpoint at a local gas station. After telling his mother about the incident in confidence, she took to the news to seek justice for her son. As the media began to get involved, the swimmer couldn’t keep his story straight, and security cameras revealed that Lochte and a few of his fellow swimmers vandalized a gas station. The ‘robber’ turned out to be a security guard who used his gun in order to keep the rowdy swimmers from fleeing the scene without paying for the damages


AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa De Olza

Ryan Lochte is not likely to be reprimanded for lying, and has still maintained most of his sponsorships & will appear on the next season of Dancing With the Stars. The Rio Olympics spokesman, Mario Andrada, was nonchalant when speaking out about the incident. “No apologies from [Lochte] or other athletes are needed. We have to understand that these kids came here to have fun. Let’s give these kids a break. Sometimes you make decisions that you later regret. They had fun, they made a mistake, life goes on.”

But for Brazil, a poorer country, Ryan’s story could mean losses for potential tourists, something most countries that host the Olympic games are aiming for. After spending large amounts of money to make the games look on par with countries that have higher GDP’s (*Cough, London*) Brazil ultimately hopes to gain money from tourism both during and after the games. It’s clear that Ryan didn’t think that his story would be released to the press, but it’s clear we won’t be getting in as much legal trouble as he should have.

Around the Games - Olympics: Day 7

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 12: Ryan Lochte of the United States attends a press conference in the Main Press Center on Day 7 of the Rio Olympics on August 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)

Gabby Douglas on the other hand, faced severe backlash when she zoned out during the USA’s National Anthem. Many people went on twitter to tweet their outrage, calling her unpatriotic and even slinging slurs at her. People also began to comment on her hair texture and tease her for her physical appearance. One article published by the LA times attacked Douglas’ body language, and made sure to note that she had been less successful during this year’s games. While researching for articles for this blog post, many articles were quick to mention how accomplished Lochte was at swimming instead of the severity of the issue. Many articles talk about Ryan in the same way you’d expect a mother to talk to her son who just spilled sauce on his shirt (slightly disappointed, yet passive). In fact, the LA Times article about Lochte is almost purely factual, and calls out the country of Brazil for “a long history of not extraditing its own citizens to other nations.” Ironically, Lochte was already back in the United States. Gabby’s mistake was quick to hold the attention of many bloggers and tweeters, forcing her to own up for her mistake. In contrast, Lochte only apologized when met with backlash on social media, and had the backing of the Spokesman for the olympics.  It’s interesting to see what people choose to report on when a white male is in trouble with the law vs. a black female who didn’t lift her arm.

And while it’s speculated that Gabby didn’t raise her hand over her heart because of the Black Lives Matter movement, she herself has not confirmed the rumors. Another U.S. athlete is currently under fire for sitting down during the anthem. Colin Kaepernick, a football player for the San Francisco 49ers, took a stance supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. While many people took to twitter again to protest their outrage, Kaepernick stood by his protest and was backed up by the 49ers coach, Chip Kelly. Verses of “The Star Spangled Banner” which used to a poem, contains a line about slavery. Kaepernick is aware that the social media backlash might ruin his chance at endorsements, something that many football players rely on to stretch their (careers and paychecks) further. Colin said “ If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right,” after he confessed to the press that he did not get permission to sit down during the anthem. The Young Turks has a video regarding the Kaepernick issue if you would like to know more (with captions, trigger warning for ableist language, swearing, & death mention).

          What are your thoughts about these three athletes? Is vandalizing a gas station as big of a crime as not putting your hand over your heart? Do any of these athletes deserve backlash? Do you find it surprising that channels like ESPN are defending Kaepernick’s freedom of speech?

     Have a great week Spartans! For more info on the crossroads of sports and activism,be sure to read up on Tommie Smith and John Carlos who were both former students at sjsu!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s