VIA: Bode Miller is no stranger to media attention or the Olympic Games. At 36 years of age, Miller today became the oldest alpine skier medalist in Olympic history with a [tie for] bronze in the Super-G. The medal was his sixth overall as he further cemented himself as the all-time most decorated American alpine skier dating back to 2002. This is despite the fact that he came home from Turin in 2006 without earning a medal, to much controversy. In short, Bode Miller has been through quite a lot in the public eye since his first Olympics in 2002.
But none of that pressure or compares to the personal adversity he faced this year when his brother, snowboarder Chelone, passed away from lingering effects of a 2005 motorcycle crash that left him in a coma for 11 days. As is the typical pattern of Olympic build-up, media outlets including broadcast-holder NBC make sure to report on the human elements and emotional back stories of the athletes in order to bring to the surface the emotional heartstrings that captivate millions watching. As was the case with Bode Miller and his brother leading up to these games. After all, we only have a few minutes to learn and attach ourselves to these athletes and NBC does their best to get us rooting for them not only as Americans, but as “made for Disney” stories.
Admittedly, this isn’t a bad thing typically and every now and then a story comes up that grabs all of us – it is part of what makes the Olympics what they are. The key though, as media, is to balance the emotional side with the competition and to let the story come together on its own without any additional narrative-driving. One great example of this balance in perfect harmony was in 2010 and the ladies’ figure skating competition. There, Canadian Joannie Rochette earned a bronze medal after her mother passed away only 2 days before the start of the competition. It was a story that was acknowledged but not forced and after her performance rightfully earned her a bronze medal on home ice, it was the feel-good story of not just the Vancouver games but all of 2010 in sports.
So now back to Bode Miller – who had just won the bronze medal while fellow American Andrew Weibrecht took silver. As is custom, the two were interviewed just after the results went final. We then throw it to NBC’s Christin Cooper [pictured above], who goes on to completely ruin the moment.
She starts off with a couple of good question about what winning the medal means to Bode (again, now the oldest alpine medalist ever) and he starts to choke up a bit when mentioning his brother in the context of it being an emotional year for him. Smelling an opportunity to get Bode to cry, Cooper then asks consecutive questions about Bode’s dead brother, not giving up until he finally breaks down.
“Bode you are showing so much emotion down here. What is going through your mind?”
Bode pauses, probably feeling like he just answered that question quite candidly, and just mentions again his tough year. He is choked up. This should have been the stopping point. But Cooper continues.
“I know you wanted to be here with Chilly, really experiencing these games and how much does it mean to you to come up with a great performance for him. And was it for him?”
So here is a time where Cooper is not only in overdrive for the emotions, but crafts the narrative. She already assumes “it was for him” before he even goes that route. She then corrects herself by asking if it was – to which he answers is actually wasn’t necessarily. And good for Bode there as our Olympians sacrifice so much to get to this stage – it is actually okay every now and then if they do it for themselves. “I wanted to make myself proud” is part of Bode’s answer. His answer is short and you know he doesn’t want to keep talking. But this wasnt good enough for Coope or NBC, who continues…
When you’re looking up in the sky at the start, we see you there and it just looks like you’re talking to somebody. What’s going on there?
Are you fucking kidding me? How many times and how many questions do you need to force a guy to answer about his recently deceased brother just so he breaks down on camera? At this point – Bode doesn’t get a word out and is brought to his knees in tears. While NBC sells this as an emotional Olympic moment – I am not alone in seeing it as pure bullshit. While an emotional story for Bode and his family, NBC decides to make sure they don’t stop until they get the reaction they wanted and that was the often-cocky Bode Miller crying on camera.
Making matters worse, primetime coverage for these games is on an extreme tape delay. So they sat on this interview for hours and still aired the entire, painful to watch piece. This didn’t make us feel happy for Bode and what he accomplished (or poor Andrew Weibrecht for that matter) but rather angry at NBC for not stopping until they caused an Olympian to break down. Time and time again we debate the differences between reporting the narrative and driving the narrative on behalf of our sports media. And this interview made me irrationally angry. Not only did it drive a narrative, it drove a grown man to his knees for no good reason other than to get something like that on camera.
The Olympics are emotional enough without NBC forcing them. In 2010 they got it right – but in 2014 they got it as wrong as I have ever seen in an interview.
As if #SochiProblem and negative emotions around these games weren’t an issue enough already.