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The Olympics and NBC failed Alana Smith and the non-binary community

NBC has issued a statement claiming its commentators used correct pronouns for Smith, when in fact they misgendered Smith multiple times.

Skateboarding - Olympics: Day 3
Alana Smith
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Update (July 27, 2021 1PM ET): In a statement provided to Outsports by an NBC Sports spokesperson, NBC Sports claimed that its commentators, Todd Harris and Paul Zitzer, “used the correct pronouns in our coverage” of Alana Smith during the Women’s Skateboarding Street broadcast.

While footage of Harris and Zitzer’s commentary during Smith’s runs is hard to come by, a video shared on Instagram from the beginning of Smith’s second prelim run shows Harris and Zitzer misgendering Smith multiple times while broaching the discussion of their non-binary identity, and then during their run.

While Harris and Zitzer were apologetic and did correct themselves, it is clear that misgendering did occur on the official NBC broadcast by NBC commentators.

The statement also touched on the streaming replay where the misgendering is much more pervasive. According to NBC Sports, the streaming replay was “an international feed that was not produced by NBCUniversal.”

Read the full statement below:

“NBC Sports is committed to — and understands the importance of — using preferred pronouns for everyone across our platforms. While our commentators used the correct pronouns in our coverage, we streamed an international feed that was not produced by NBCUniversal which misgendered Olympian Alana Smith. We regret this error and apologize to Alana and our viewers.”

GLAAD Rapid Response Manager Mary Emily O’Hara also provided a statement, saying, “With a record number of out LGBTQ athletes competing in these Games, including the first out nonbinary and transgender participants, it’s important that journalists follow best practices for LGBTQ coverage.”

Outsports has reached out to NBC Sports for further information regarding this matter.

Original Story: Alana Smith made Olympic history on Sunday, becoming the first out non-binary athlete to represent the USA at the games when they participated in the Women’s Skateboarding Street event.

Smith made sure the moment was known by etching their pronouns into the grip tape on their board in multiple places, displaying it proudly on the broadcast during their introduction ahead of prelims.

It was a moment of celebration for all of us whose identities defy the gender binary, including Smith, whose face displayed an uncontained joy in that moment and throughout their runs. Missing tricks couldn’t even wipe the smile off their face.

But spectators watching Smith from home witnessed first-hand that while non-binary athletes have shown that they can handle the Olympic stage, the Olympics itself hasn’t caught up on their end.

NBC Sports commentators Todd Harris and Paul Zitzer consistently misgendered Smith during their prelim runs. BBC commentators Marc Churchill and Ed Leigh did the same.

There is no excuse for why this happened. When Outsports published a brief profile of Smith a couple weeks ago, we reached out to them and specifically asked how they identify.

But what do you expect to happen when the Olympics itself chose to not properly represent Smith’s gender identity on their official Olympics bio? Sure, the site correctly uses they/them for Smith further down, but misgendering them at the very top of the page sets a precedent, one that was carried through during the broadcasts.

It isn’t hard to correctly gender an athlete. Knowing such information falls into the purview of a commentator’s job.

Fellow BBC commentator Tim Warwood, who wasn’t on Sunday’s broadcast, claimed that the misgendering was likely the result of not having “seen anything regarding gender” and defaulting to information provided by event organizers when they don’t know an athlete well. That isn’t an excuse for alienating a section of the audience primed to revel in seeing someone like Smith representing the modern conversation on gender in a positive way.

It also exposes Olympics organizers when it comes to how much they pay attention to properly representing the athletes whose life stories and supreme abilities they cherish so dearly.

Harris can like all the comments on Instagram asking him and Zitzer to stop misgendering Smith during the broadcast, but that doesn’t change the fact that doing so in the first place displays a blatant disrespect to both Smith and the non-binary fans of a supposedly-modern sport making its Olympic debut.

During an Olympics featuring the largest group of out LGBTQ athletes ever to compete, including non-binary and trans athletes who are at the center of conversations about gender identity and sports, what happened to Smith on Sunday reflects the attitudes within the minds of event organizers.

The information is out there. Olympic organizers have it, failed to properly communicate it to people whose job it is to convey knowledge of competitors (who are capable of doing their own research as well) and soured an amazing moment of inclusivity in sport in doing so.

How often can you say pro wrestling did a better job of presenting itself than the Olympics?

While Smith didn’t qualify for the final, they proved that reaching a stage as large as the Olympics is attainable for non-binary athletes. And those charged with communicating that on international television failed them and their audience at every step of the way.