The Olympic Games are proving to be an easy punching bag for Americans. Many have been long fed up by the politicization of sports overall and by big-box media outlets’ reliance on touchy-feely personal accounts to bolster ideology at the expense of athletic performance. As a result, it appears the personally empowered PC Olympics have turned out to be a ratings flop.
“NBC’s primetime coverage of the Tokyo Olympics continued to spiral downward on Monday [July 26], averaging 14.7 million viewers for a 49% drop compared to the equivalent night from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games,” Fox News reports. “Monday’s telecast also shed 53% of viewers from coverage of the first weeknight primetime during the 2012 London Olympics and declines were even larger among the advertiser-coveted demographic of adults aged 18-49.”
Woke-ism Makes You Lose
“Woke politics takes the life and joy out of everything. Woke-ism makes you lose, ruins your mind and ruins you as a person. You become warped. You become demented,” former President Donald Trump told a crowd during a speech at a Turning Point Action summit in Phoenix on July 24. “Earlier this week, [the U.S. Women’s Olympic soccer team] unexpectedly lost to Sweden, three to nothing, and Americans were happy about it,” Trump exclaimed as his audience cheered.
Agree with him or not, Trump touched a nerve felt by millions of sports fans.
A kerfuffle was ignited when U.S. gymnast Simone Biles abruptly pulled out of her individual and team contests at the Games “in order to focus on her mental health.” The issue immediately became political, with progressives celebrating Biles’ move and harshly denouncing anyone who would dare criticize her. “Simone Biles is showing us what exemplary feminist leadership really looks like,” a headline to one opinion piece at NBC News read. Naomi Osaka, a Japanese tennis player who withdrew from the French Open in late May for mental health reasons, was also cited by the writer, one Lauren Leader, as a modern-day heroine alongside Biles:
“What both these powerful, young women of color are showing their critics and the world, is that rejecting the limiting, often sexist expectations of others in favor of preserving oneself has enormous power. They are brave enough and strong enough to believe in themselves – to be true to who they are, and to refuse the crushing, unrealistic expectations that they be ever outstanding, ever perfect, always smiling and beautiful to boot. To be a top athlete of their caliber, especially as women of color, is to carry the weight of the world. At the Olympics, the world’s biggest stage, Simone Biles was strong enough, brave enough and feminist enough to say, no more.”
Keep in mind that this was published by the same network now mired in a ratings catastrophe. Osaka also flamed out at Tokyo, losing early to a much lower-ranked opponent and failing to earn a medal. Needless to say, it did not make for good television. Strident, pain-wracked reflections on mental health and how it applies to race and gender ignore a much larger question looming over the Olympics right now: Do people tuning in to watch sporting events want to be fed a nonstop diet of politically correct trauma narratives instead?
NBC executives are learning that they do not.
“[T]he size of the [ratings] declines from the previous Rio Olympics have unnerved advertisers, who are believed to have invested more than $1.2 billion in the sports extravaganza,” Variety senior TV editor Brian Steinberg wrote July 27. The network has been induced to enter into “make goods” discussions with unhappy advertisers or ad inventory offerings that are “given to sponsors when a program fails to meet its original viewership guarantees.”
How Special It Can Be
Three-time Olympics hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones has made the simple argument that leading big-ticket sports executives either cannot or will not accept. “I think sometimes people just want to tune in to watch sports, to just watch sports, and they’re not there for the political side of it,” Jones said in an appearance on Fox News on July 26. “But then on the athlete’s side, the athletes are like, ‘this is the biggest platform I’ve ever had and I want to speak my causes.’”
On July 1, Norwegian track star Karsten Warholm ran the 400-meter hurdles in a clocked time of 46.70 seconds in a pre-Olympics meet to shatter a world record that had stood for 29 years. The enduring charm of the Olympics is that one does not have to remotely be a fan of track and field to be utterly thrilled by such a feat.
Anybody sitting at a bar or posting on social media can form a political opinion. It’s not that hard to do. Heck, viewers can turn on the nightly inanity at CNN and get their fill of leftist blather. But truly great athletic moments can linger in the hearts of spectators forever. Americans who were alive and of age when the 1980 U.S. hockey team beat the Russians at the Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York can still tell you where they were and how they felt on that magical night 41 years ago.
Nobody says the same about a Wednesday night Don Lemon telecast.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.