Olympic Medalist Credited as 'Athlete's wife' by Media

Taking home the bronze medal for women’s trap shooting for the United States on Sunday was not enough of an accomplishment for Olympian Corey Cogdell-Unrein, according to some media outlets. Headlines regarding Cogdell-Unrein’s victory referred to the athlete as the wife of an NFL player.


A Chicago Tribune headline said, “Corey Cogdell, wife of Bears lineman Mitch Unrein, wins bronze in Rio.” And when posting the article on Twitter, the publication used a similar headline:

Twitter users slammed the publication for focusing on her husband rather than Cogdell-Unrein. Users responded negatively, and some proposed alternative headlines.

On Monday, following the firestorm on Twitter, the Tribune sent out another tweet.

Indeed, Cogdell-Unrein is impressive in her own right.

Cogdell-Unrein is competing in her third Olympics. She also earned a bronze medal in 2008 in Beijing. On Sunday, she hit 13 out of 15 targets, with her last one earning her the medal. Cogdell-Unrein’s win earned the United States its sixth medal. (Currently the U.S. has 19 medals.)

“They are very similar as I won bronze in 2008 in a shoot-off as well,” she said of her second victory compared to her first. “But I think it is different, because in 2008, I was two years into the sport. Now I have been competing for almost 10 [years], so I am a different athlete and I felt more prepared coming into these Games.”

Sexism in Sports

Female athletes frequently face different standards when compared to men in the sports world. The Cambridge University Press published a study last week, “Aesthetics, athletics and the olympics,” which highlights stark disparities between how male and female Olympians are written about by the media and shows that the Chicago Tribune’s article about Cogdell-Unrein is in fact not that far from the norm.

“Using the Cambridge English Corpus (CEC) and the Sports Corpus, multi-billion word databases of written and spoken English language from a huge range of media sources, experts at Cambridge University Press have analysed millions of words relating to men and women and how they are described in language associated with the Olympic sports,” the study explains.

According to the findings:

“Notable terms that cropped up as common word associations or combinations for women, but not men, in sport include ‘aged’, ‘older’, ‘pregnant’ and ‘married’ or ‘un-married’. The top word combinations for men in sport, by contrast, are more likely to be adjectives like ‘fastest’, ‘strong’, ‘big’, ‘real’ and ‘great’ all words regularly heard to describe male Olympians such as Usain Bolt.

“When it comes to performance, it seems as though men also have the competitive edge: we see ‘men’ or ‘man’ associated with verbs such as ‘mastermind’, ‘beat’, ‘win’, ‘dominate’ and ‘battle’, whereas ‘woman’ or ‘women’ is associated with verbs such as ‘compete’, ‘participate’ and ‘strive’.”

Related Story: Mansplaining for Soccer Pay Gap

Earlier this year, members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) accusing the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) of wage discrimination, citing the higher pay earned by the male soccer team. Players on the women’s team cited the fact that the men were compensated $9 million for a 2014 World Cup victory, compared to the $2 million the female team garnered for their win the following year.

The USSFprovided numerous reasons for the differences in pay, including the fact that the women had negotiated for a different pay structure. However, the federation also cited maternity leave as a contributing factor and called providing it “revolutionary.”

Related Story: Serena Williams, New York Times and Body Image

Like in Cogdell-Unrein’s case, female athletes are frequently presented differently than their male counterparts by the media. Last year, the New York Times came under fire for its demeaning portrayal of tennis star Serena Williams.

Just one day before her Wimbledon victory last year, the Times published an article with the headline, “Tennis’s Top Women Balance Body Image With Ambition.” The context of the article compared Williams’ physique to that of other female tennis players and added that the latter do not wish to emulate Williams’ body type.

Writer Ben Rothenberg writes of Williams’ “large biceps and mold-breaking muscular frame” and also quotes the tennis star as saying, “I’m really happy with my body type, and I’m really proud of it.”

However, he then quotes white female tennis players who have said they don’t want to look like Williams. In addition, the Times later sent a tweet accompanying the article, not highlighting Williams’ accomplished tennis career but rather her allegedly undesirable body type.

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