TMI — too much information — not the medal count, is proving to be the story of the 2012 Olympics. What should be a stage for the display of physical prowess has instead become a showcase for the lack of common sense.
What Olympian tweet will make us cringe next?
For those (and there are still many) not tethered to the 140-character aggregator/gossip-mag/town-square site known as Twitter, it may appear as if the drama of these social media games is unfolding around the pool, the balance beam and the basketball court. But in reality, the action — and controversy — has migrated to the Twitterverse.
Even before the Olympics began, a Greek athlete was booted off the team for tweeting a racist joke. Triple jumper Paraskevi “Voula” Papachristou tried her hand at humor by mocking African immigrants with this doozie: “With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!!!” After thousands of negative comments, she posted five apologetic tweets in two hours. Too late. The damage was done.
You would think Papachristou’s gaffe would have served as a cautionary tale for other athletes to engage the brain before the thumbs. Nope. This week Swiss soccer defender Michel Morganella showed he was more than a sore loser when he sent out his own racist message after his team fell to South Korea 2-1, calling the winners, among other things, a “bunch of mongoloids.” He was bounced from the team, and his Twitter account was deleted.
Overt racism hasn’t been the only issue. Aussie swimmer Stephanie Rice, who won three gold medals in Beijing in 2008, got in trouble back home for posting a racy photo of herself in a skimpy crisscross bikini. She should’ve known better. Back in 2010 she created a ruckus when she tweeted “suck on the faggots” after Australia beat South Africa in rugby.
Team USA has had its missteps in the brave, new, watch-your-step world of Twitter, too. Soccer star Hope Solo whined about NBC analyst Brandi Chastain’s commentary, saying that Chastain, a former U.S. soccer star, should “lay off commentating” about defensive play and goalkeeping “until you get more educated.” As one pundit quipped, that’s like telling Einstein to get more educated on physics.
Solo’s unwarranted mouth-off overshadowed the U.S. women’s soccer team play in the Olympics. And that’s a pity.
Realizing the double-edged power of social media, the International Olympic Committee set rules for its use long before the games kicked off. Athletes are not allowed to “report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants.” Furthermore, postings should conform to the Olympic spirit and “be dignified and in good taste, and not contain vulgar or obscene words or images.”
That should have covered it, right? Apparently not, when a smart phone makes an audience so accessible.
Sadly, ideals of dignity and taste may be too, well, Olympian, in a culture of oversharing where every thought, no matter how trivial or offensive, is considered worth circulating, where vulgar self-disclosure has become a chance at fame and where offenders excuse their nastiness by claiming that they’re simply being frank.
There’s still a week to go in these games: plenty of time for its tweeting enthusiasts to imbue the Olympic motto— faster, higher, stronger — with a whole other meaning.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.