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Opinion For women at the Games, sexist media is the biggest hurdle

It's too much to ask, apparently, that female athletes at the 2016 Olympic Games are treated like – wait for it – athletes.

Like human beings of jaw-dropping physical achievement who have made untold sacrifices to run, jump, swim, score and compete. As jocks, basically, focused on taking home gold.

Nope. From the very start, this year's Olympics coverage has been an annoying replay of every boring sexist comment ever made about women and sports.

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When NBC announced last month that it would delay its stream of the opening ceremonies by an hour, outlets such as The Philadelphia Inquirer asked why. John Miller, the chief marketing officer of the channel's Games coverage, responded by saying that Olympics viewers are more likely to be women than men, and are therefore not "particularly sports fans."

In photos: Triumph, tears and the plain tenacity of Canada's Olympic athletes

"They're less interested in the result and more interested in the journey," he explained. "It's sort of like the ultimate reality show and mini-series wrapped into one."

Things only got dumber from there.

Peter Mansbridge called Gisele Bundchen "Mrs. Tom Brady" during CBC's opening-ceremony broadcast; clearly Uncle Canada hasn't heard that the Brazilian super model is probably worth twice as much as the football guy.

American trapshooter Cory Cogdell won her second Games medal only to have the Chicago Tribune describe her in a tweet as the "wife of a Bears lineman," which will never, ever happen to Bill even if Hillary wins.

"Pretty Penny" blared a Toronto Sun headline about Canada's silver butterfly medallist, lest 16-year-old Penny Oleksiak become confused that it's her speed, skill or commitment that matters in this world.

And woe be the woman who thinks she can just up and collect medals after giving birth. After American swimmer Dana Vollmer won a silver and a bronze, the Daily Mail felt the need to point out her pregnancy weight gain (it also labelled Katie Ledecky "the female Michael Phelps").

The list goes on and the Games aren't nearly done. Even if none of this is exactly on purpose, it's not by accident either. Women playing sports has always been controversial and societies have always tried to dissuade it.

As The Globe and Mail's Cathal Kelly noted recently, Victorians got their bloomers into such a knot over ladies on teams that the late 19th-century saw soccer teams chased by mobs and rugby tournaments squashed. A hundred years or so later, Saudi Arabia prevents girls and women from playing sports inside that country, but sends foreign-trained citizens to the Games to deflect criticism.

In between has come the policing of women's hormone levels and bodies; the controversy about whether Sports Illustrated should have named the world's best tennis player, Serena Williams, or a horse as its "sportsperson of the year" for 2015; and, oh yeah, the underpayment of female athletes at every level basically everywhere.

It's all of a piece. So yes, silly headlines and slips of the tongue do matter. And if you make a mistake, learn how to apologize, gracefully.

That's not what happened when NBC sportscaster Dan Hicks was called out for his verbiage after the women's 400-metre individual medley. After Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu set a new world record, the camera panned over her husband (and coach) Shane Tusup, prompting Mr. Hicks to declare "there's the guy responsible." Swift derision followed on social media, so he dialled it back. A little. "With live TV, there are often times you look back and wished you had said things differently," Mr. Hicks said. But but but! "It is impossible to tell Katinka's story accurately without giving appropriate credit to Shane …"

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Remind me again who's focused on emotions and relationships? Seems like it's men who are preoccupied with the juicy back story while all the sportsing is going on.

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