Olympic attention to mental health: Can NBC coverage pivot?
Jul 31, 2021 1 min, 20 secs

Olympic athletes, most notably gymnast Simone Biles, haven’t been afraid to express the mental and emotional difficulties they’ve faced during these pandemic games, a development that’s thrown NBC a curve.

In its coverage, NBC should make it a point to talk to athletes about their mental, not just physical, preparation for the games, said Hillary Cauthen, a sports psychologist from Austin, Texas, who is on the executive board of the Association for Applied Sports Psychology.

By far, though, NBC’s prime-time coverage is the window through which most Americans experience the Games, and that is primarily focused on the medal hunt by American athletes in gymnastics, swimming & diving and track & field.

While many athletes thrive in that environment, Biles’ decision to pull out of the team and all-around gymnastics competition is the most prominent sign that for some, the pressure takes a toll.

Molly Solomon, executive producer of NBC’s Olympics coverage, objects to any characterization of the network’s philosophy as simply winner takes all.

That put athletes such as Katie Ledecky and Biles in an intense spotlight, and the gymnast’s decision not to compete has likely contributed to the network’s disappointing ratings thus far.

NBC’s Olympics host, Mike Tirico, noted in a commentary that Biles’ story and the focus on mental health didn’t fit into society’s desire for instant results and a willingness to criticize athletes who don’t live up to expectations.

Instead, Phelps’ activism and willingness to talk about his own mental health issues has provided a crucial element to NBC’s Biles coverage.

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