Lothery & Associates

Diversity Damage at the Olympics

If you’ve watched the Olympics at all in the last few games, one thing that you may have noticed is the diversity throughout the games. Diversity amongst the 204 countries represented, and diversity within the teams themselves. In corporate America, religious organizations, communities, diversity can be hard to come by. But in sport, diversity is everywhere! Inclusion and tolerance are practically essential to competing in athletics.

With so many ethnic groups represented, competing, socializing in Olympic park, and other places it’s hard to imagine that we’re seeing a surge of intolerance in social media from the Olympic athletes.

  • Michel Morganella, a soccer player for Switzerland, has been expelled from the Olympics for posting, on Twitter, “an offensive and threatening message aimed at South Korean people after the Swiss team lost 2-1 to South Korea on Sunday,” (The Associated Press)
  • Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was expelled last week after she posted a comment mocking African immigrants. (Associated Press)

This roughly translates to:

(Google Translated. Picture: Buzz Feed Sports)

I’ve always wondered what makes otherwise reasonable people resort to racist comments when they have displeasure or discomfort? Most people will say they’re not racist. And they would be correct. However, many people (of all ethnic groups) when they get angry resort to the first emotional button they can push. Sadly, when the people involved are of different ethnic groups that’s the easiest fall back point. The question I pose today, is what can you do to break the cycle?

You know how it works. A shooter goes on a killing spree. If they’re from an ethnic group that you would find that to be “typical” or really “stereotypical” behavior, you might say, “you know how THEY are,” and go about your day. If you are a member of an ethnic group from whom society expects negative behavior and you hear about something tragic that occurred, you might say, “thank goodness” when you see someone from another ethnic group is responsible.  For example, I’m sure there were plenty of people who were expecting the Aurora shooter to be a white 20-something year old man. But the same number of people were stunned and amazed to find out that the DC Snipers (2002) were black. Every profiling expert suspected they were one, or more, white males between the ages of 30-40 years old.

We all have this inherent bias that we learned from our earliest years. No one can put a finger on what led them to believe what they do, but these thoughts are there in our subconscious. They stay buried until we feel like we’re under attack, or in the case of the Olympics, when we’re losing or feel under pressure.

So what can you do to consciously check your subconscious bias at the door?  My answer:  Stop. Assess. Modify or Verify.

  • Stop: Recognize that your subliminal bias is creeping into your conscious mind. Know that you are forming a prejudgment or about to attack verbally or in action.
  • Assess: Really look at the situation, individual, or team for what it is. Is it a stereotype coming to life in front of your eyes, or are they an individual worthy of a fresh start and a clean slate. Recognize that stereotypes are not the rule, they are just a lazy person’s way of categorizing people.
  • Modify: Adjust your perspective and behavior based on your assessment when the evidence ahead of you shows your bias is incorrect.
  • Verify: We all know, or know of someone who is the epitome of a stereotype. There’s a black person who is good at sports, a white person who can’t jump, an Asian who can’t drive well, a Jewish person who’s cheap, and can point to a Muslim who is a terrorist. Sometimes, it is what it is. But the danger comes when you don’t take the extra second to recognize that there are far more people who aren’t walking stereotypes than are. You overlook great talent, friends, partners, employees, even teammates.

It is negligent and damaging to us as a nation and global community to let our inherent biases win.  It’s worse, when we take high profile people like Olympic athletes who take to social media like Twitter and Facebook where they blurt the first emotional utterance that comes to mind.

Congratulations to all Olympic Officials for affirming that words of intolerance are not in the spirit of the games and would not be tolerated. We should all take the lesson from the TSA and the world of sports: “If you see something say something.” Don’t let intolerance spread. You can stop it and create a work, play, or even sporting environment of inclusion where everyone has a place.

Now, let’s take this last moment to look at where social media plays. No one would know what happened if it wasn’t posted on the world wide web. One thing most young people forget is that once it’s on the internet it’s free game for everyone to see. Governments have been overthrown because of protests that started on Twitter and other social media. It’s a tricky and unpredictable medium. Unpredictable in the sense that no one can ever tell how far their single tweet will reach. But absolutely predictable that someone will see it. If you’re a slave to social media, or even just check in on it time to time, remember these simple rules:

  • Emotional utterances should be kept as a thought bubble. Not an internet share.
  • Think before you tweet.
  • Stop Assess Modify anything that has potential to damage your own image, reputation, and career.
  • Use the power of the web to garner support, not breed enemies.

I suspect that there are more errors to come from other athletes, but with any luck some might read this post and stop themselves before they start.


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Comment by JT | July 30, 2012 | 6:04 pm

What a wonderful credo to live by! To stop, assess, modify, and verify should be something carried over to all aspects of one’s life.

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Comment by 1963dalek | August 5, 2012 | 8:53 pm

Ive seen the Greek girls tweet but where was the racist comment?

Perhaps you could explain what her racist comment was?

Comment by Ade | August 5, 2012 | 10:16 pm

I really wish the world were as you liberals believe, sadly, it aint, there genuinely are racial differences in IQ and crime rate and this enforced diversity represents an existential threat to Western Europeans.
Stop living in a dream world, look into black on white crime statistics, the genocide of Afrakaans, rape jihad in Europe.

Comment by 1963dalek | August 6, 2012 | 7:10 am

Odd, you deleted my comment. Almost as if you couldnt explain *why* the Greek girls tweet was racist.

Comment by 1963dalek | August 7, 2012 | 4:31 pm

Karlyn – you still dont seem to be able to explain what was racist about the Greek girls tweet.

Comment by Karlyn Lothery | August 7, 2012 | 5:06 pm

Apologies to those who submitted comments over the weekend. As you can imagine, we don’t allow direct posting to avoid spamming, bad language, and other things. We don’t work over the weekend,and had quite a heavy training day on Monday so this is our first opportunity to read and approve the comments.

With that said, allow me to clarify the purpose and point of this particular blog post and all posts that we do. As a communication training company it is our focus to take a look at events, messages and behaviors that can have an impact on ones personal, professional, or corporate brand.

I did not call the young woman’s comments racist. I simply pointed out that Olympic officials did and attempted to look at why, and how public figures can avoid such controversy in the future. Here we looked at how one’s harmlessly intended comments tweeted during the Olympics, and one who was far more malicious in his intent, were both construed as racist. The Greek athlete’s comments were more insensitive and offensive than racist, in that she degraded a group of people to being that of food, while at the same time, she was inadvertantly making light of a disease that kills millions of Africans each year. The IOC and other Olympic officials deemed her comments unbecoming and racist and thus, expelled her.

As stated in this blog most people don’t intend to offend or harm others, but without thought of context or impact can do just that. The purpose of this blog post was to highlight where people can go wrong in their social media, interviews, or even conversations, even when they are simply trying to make a lighthearted joke.

It’s unfortunate that one of the posters here let emotion take over. I think we were pretty clear on the goal of what we were trying to accomplish.

In the third poster’s comments, the writer is actually doing what we say happens when people fail to stop, assess, verify or modify. By looking at one set of data without looking at a total picture, one is likely to buy into and believe as 100% fact, all that stereotypes would lead us to believe. I’ll simply refer back to the comments about the fact that we all know a person we would call “a walking stereotype,” but when we get lazy in our thoughts and accept stereotypes as trueor everyone, we subject all people to our own bias and possible discrimination.

I’m assuming, based on “Ade’s” comments that he or she is a caucasian individual. If my only exposure to white people were that of what I see on the news, and read in history books I could believe that white men were the cause of most crimes against humanity including slavery, holocaust, genocide, most serial killers, most domestic terrorists, most people who “go postal,” those who have started world wars, and most child molesters. I could say all successful white business people were so because they were white collar criminals. I could make the lazy assumption that they should be feared for their violent nature and aptitude for mass destruction, and not trusted for their shifty practices. However, that would be a stereotype that I have chosen to unfairly apply to all, disregarding all doctors, lawyers, honest business people, and simply put, productive and helpful citizens. All of these upstanding qualities exist in EVERY community. Categorically lumping any group into some negative stereotype because they are not members of your own “demographic group” is simply a lazy approach to life, and one that would cause the “believer” to miss out on some great opportunities, friends, employees, employers, teammates, life savers, and partners.

I hope all writers who have commented on this piece will reread for the purpose and intent of this post, and check it against all previous posts for consistency in how we tie current events to communication (direct, corporate, and cross-cultural) suggestions and practices. Thank you for taking the time to share your own thoughts. We always welcome a spirited conversation or debate, so please return for future posts.

The comments are closed.


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