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Olympics Coverage Highlights Sexist Language In TV Sports Commentary

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There have been lots of moments during the Olympics coverage in Rio when viewers have gone online and accused commentators of saying things that are sexist.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For example, right after swimmer Katinka Hosszu of Hungary set a world record in the 400-meter individual medley, the camera cut to her coach, who's also her husband.

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DAN HICKS: And there is the guy responsible for turning Katinka Hosszu, his wife, into a whole different swimmer.

CORNISH: Twitter pounced on NBC's Dan Hicks. Sample tweet, (reading) are you kidding me - pretty sure she won the gold, not her husband.

SHAPIRO: Language researcher Sarah Grieves says this is not just about live TV flubs.

SARAH GRIEVES: We found some kind of inequalities really in the language that's used about men and women in sport.

SHAPIRO: Grieves spoke to us from her office at Cambridge University Press, which built a multi-billion word database from the last 20 years full of examples of written and spoken English language from articles to blogs to tweets...

CORNISH: And Grieves and her researchers mined it for language around gender and sports.

GRIEVES: We looked at the words that describe men and women athletes, and we found for women, it tends to be things like pregnant, married, unmarried. And we also find references to their appearance, their age. Whereas for men, we find things like big, fastest, strong - words relating to their ability and prowess as athletes.

CORNISH: Now they're looking at the coverage of the Rio Olympics. They'll release the findings next week.

SHAPIRO: And in the meantime, Sarah Grieves says the research has changed the way she views the Olympics coverage.

GRIEVES: So for example, women being referred to as girls. We found in our research that happens much more frequently than men are referred to as boys, statistically. And since finding that out, I've been much more aware of that - in commentary, for example, women's teams being referred to as girls.

CORNISH: But when the Final Five of U.S. women's gymnastics waited for the results and the team all around...

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Well, you know it's going to happen, but it is still so emotional to see that these women were able to come around and win a gold medal.

CORNISH: So maybe some of this criticism is making its way back to the press box in Rio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.