The Olympic Games showcase some of the best athletes in the world on the biggest international stage in sports.
Some of those athletes aren’t even 16 years old.
See the entire U.S. women’s gymnastics team, which doesn’t have a gymnast over 18 and but does have a gymnast who is 15, or Missy Franklin, the 17-year-old American swimmer who’s expected to haul in multiple golds.
At the Olympic level, there is no problem with expecting big things from the athletes who represent your country. It is, after all, the highest level there is. In jest, it’s often said athletes who underachieve should walk home after the Olympics end.
Well, what if Missy Franklin underachieves? Or if the women’s gymnastics team underachieves? Should a teenager feel ashamed to return to her own country? Can he or she mentally handle that pressure?
Even on NBC, the commentators are required to praise the good and criticize the bad. But there’s something wrong when a 16-year-old slips and falls on the balance beam, and NBC shows her crying in her coach’s arms while the commentators explain how disappointing of a performance that was for her.
Millions of people are watching, and they’re piling on the embarrassment.
Now, NBC certainly isn’t trying to embarrass anyone, especially an extremely young athlete. But it’s their job to convey the truth and the truth was … well, she sucked.
As a journalistic purist, I don’t think it should be any other way. Communicating only the positive aspects of a performance is public relations, not journalism. But I also don’t think athletes should be placed under such a strong microscope until college, hence, the Olympic dilemma.
I can offer no solution to this. The Olympics should have the best, and the best are often the youngest, a direct contradiction of my personal beliefs on the subject.
The Olympics should be an exception to young athletes competing casually, but instead they are a microcosm of how young athletes are strictly scrutinized.
More and more in youth sports, you see coaches visibly frustrated when a 12-year-old strikes out or misses a key free throw. It strongly affects the confidence of that pre-teenager.
As they progress through high school, a coach’s frustration is more understandable. Now, coaching is a job, and the objective is to field winning teams. But now, there are newspapers covering the games. It’s a lose-lose situation: You’re either covering them from a partisan angle, or you’re throwing teenagers under the bus.
The worst is high school football, where college recruits are now graded on their skill sets by websites such as ESPN or Rivals, rather than by the coaches recruiting them. They receive multiple phone calls every day from news outlets checking their commitment status. Many of these student-athletes haven’t even taken the SATs yet.
It’s because die-hard college football fans eat that kind of stuff up.
Our culture needs to be broken of this habit. Young athletes are starting to expect this kind of behavior, and they shouldn’t have to deal with it until they are on scholarship in college. It says something’s wrong with our society when high school athletes are given a slot on SportsCenter.
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