Gymnastics. Hardcore fans versus casual fans. An analysis of the claim that Al Trautwig should be fired.

It’s the Olympics!!!

 But that “busy fan” thing has reared its backside and the only event I have watched so far is gymnastics.  (I have the rest of prime time on DVR though.) 

Gymnastics for me brings back wonderful childhood memories of weekend afternoon TV, watching these wondrous women who traveled the world, trained together like sisters and did the most amazing and beautiful acrobatics.   Just like I had to deal with the reason Santa Claus didn’t bring me a balance beam (to be placed in the middle of our living room) on Christmas day was because he wasn’t real, my gymnastics dream world I envisioned based on TV fluff pieces and triple twists wasn’t reality either.

But recently after tumbling into the world of the online gymnastics, I’ve had my heart broken again.  The gymnastics commentator who has shown me the world of gymnastics for decades, Al Trautwig, is hated (and I mean HATED) by the hardcore fan base.  They even started a petition to get him fired.

I didn’t even know his name until the online fans screamed it in horror but I do recognize his voice on every broadcast.  It just never occurred to me to hate a gymnstatics commentator.   Why hate this man with a great voice who seems to goofily always praise the gymnasts that I love?   (The critiquing part of the commentary is left to Tim Daggett.)

The level of emotion and anger that is thrown at Trautwig by the hardcore fans is about the same that is spent on what I see as the more important issues of gymnastics such as sexual abuse, injuries and exploitation. This Olympic cycle it seemed to hit a feverous high as the online community launched a #FireAlTroutwig campaign on twitter and the leaders of the community have continuously insisted he should be fired.  So I wanted to try to understand this outrage from the online gymnastic community leaders.

Background:

  • Al Trautwig has commentated gymnastics for the last 5 Olympic cycles.  He has been nominated for 3 Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Sports Personality - Studio Host.

  • He has been criticized a lot by the gymnastics online community for at least the past 10 years.  They claim he is “stupid”, “creepy” and ignorant about gymnastics. 

My Conclusion:

I don’t think the hardcore fans make a strong enough case to get Al Traughtwig fired and I think the approach they have taken and comments they have made contributes negatively to the sport and the image of the online fanbase.  However, I do think some of their complaints are valid and should be addressed by Trautwig and NBC.   I don't think Trautwig is a bad commentator but I don't think Gymnastics is the best sport for him to commentate.

Detailed Analysis:

Below are the arguments made by the online community why he should be fired, my initial thoughts and then analysis.

Point

#FireAlTrautwig

He should be fired because:

TheBusyFan.com

Conclusion

1

He doesn’t love gymnastics.  

 

Evidential Claim:  Al Trautwig did a NBC podcast interview where he said he doesn’t do any research before a meet and doesn’t understand gymnastics.  He said he respects baseball more than gymnastics.

NBC has a podcast that interviewed Al Trautwig and someone actually listened to it?

He shouldn’t be fired.

 

I found the podcast and listened to it.  The link is at:

 

http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/the-poscast/e/stories-al-trautwig-45655697

 

Summary of podcast:  He first talks about his background as a writer and other sports.  He starts talking about gymnastics at the 12: 01 mark

 

1.        He explains that the main audience for gymnastics is the 4 year or casual fan and he needs to care more about that audience.  He doesn’t learn gymnastics because he has two gold medalists with him.

2.       He explains how a perfect 10 used to be like a homerun.  Gymnastics is so complicated and difficult to moderate now as apparatus has different scoring

3.       He thinks that it’s hard to find information about gymnastics. 

4.       He tries to bring out the humanity of gymnastics - how important it is for these younger athletes who have given up so much for these 2 weeks and probably won’t have another chance at Olympics

5.       He praises Simone Biles many times, talking about how wonderful she is, favoring her skills to the greatest male gymnast of all time and quoting Tim and Nastia’s positive comments for her

6.       He explains why the qualification is so important.

7.       He talks about how exited he is about Ally Raisman and Gabby Douglass’ story.  He speaks positively about the gymnasts.

8.       He gives an analogy of the beam to explain to the casual user how hard the event is.

9.       He explains that to moderate baseball, you really need to know the sport.

10.   He talks about the men:  Sam Mikulak, Leyva who is from Cuba.

11.   Other countries cannot keep up with the US even though they have changed the number of competitors from 7 to 6 and now to 5.

 

Analysis:

 

I’m really trying hard to understand the criticism of Trautwig here.  He does come off to me as an “NBC Company” man.  He believes in NBC and will do anything it asks of him.  But I didn’t hear anything in this podcast that indicates he dislikes gymnastics.  He was complimentary of Nastia and Tim and seems to really get how great Simone really is.

 

Gymnastics IS hard to understand.  The rule book is crazy difficult and long and constantly changing.  He relies on Tim and Nastia for the technical expertise and that’s their job and they are good at it.  This is teamwork and I think his role is needed to educate for the large casual fanbase who is tuning into the event.

 

I talked to a lot of people about this and I did get feedback that there is too much personal story telling during the broadcast and they want more of the gymnastics technical commentary.  So this would be a strike against Trautwig.  But he seems like such an NBC company devotee that if they gave him that feedback, his nose would turn browner than mud and he would study the code of points until he could recite them backwards.

 

Would that satisfy his detractors?  Or would it just bring more rage that he’s “not a gymnast” and should leave the technical stuff to Tim and Nastia as was the topic of prior criticisms?   

 

 

 

Point

#FireAlTroutwig

He should be fired because:

TheBusyFan.com

Conclusion

2

During a broadcast when the camera was focused on Simone Bile’s biological grandfather and his wife who have adopted Simone, he commented that they are not her parents but she calls them mom and dad

I think NBC and Traughwig need sensitivity training.

He may should be fired base on this.

I heard this comment live and thought it was a bit odd.  However, my immediate thoughts were of the quote “Anyone can be a father but it takes someone special to be dad” which is on so many father’s day cards and gifts.  I associate the terms “mom and dad” more with parenting than the word “parent”.  www.dadtography.com/definition-of-dad-vs-father-and-a-fathers-right-to-parent describes my thoughts pretty well on this.  So I thought this was a positive comment and a compliment to Simone’s family.

 

The online community was outraged and when the story was picked up major news outlets, I began to understand this other interpretation of Trautwig’s statement. 

 

But it wasn’t until I talked to people in person to get their thoughts and they brought race into the equation that I began to understand why this comment was so hurtful.  A couple of people from the black community explained that they want to see Simone Biles appreciated for her personality, talent and accomplishment and not for her “struggle”.  They explained to me their feelings that black athletes can’t just be appreciated based on their success.  There always has to be reference to familial relations and difficulties.  “Just let Simone be the best female athlete in the world.  Focus on that and don’t detract from it by pointing out her past”, they said.

 

I got this kind of feedback a lot, that there are too many personal stories in the broadcast and not enough gymnastics.  In the podcast, Al Trautwig emphasized how import the personal side is.  But I think he and NBC needs to rethink this and listen to the feedback they are getting.  I have to give credit to Spencer and the Gymcastic podcast for calling this out prior to the broadcast.  He seems to have the same opinion as the casual fan on this one.

 

In addition, I think they need to be more sensitive.  I don’t want the broadcast to sound reheared or become so politically correct it sounds fake.  But maybe they should have “dry runs” where they talk about the personal stories they are going to relay prior to the broadcast to get feedback and practice when talking about sensitive topics.  

 

Furthermore, the online community claimed that per the AP, NBC forced Traugtwig to apologize.  I read his twitter in one of the articles and I think he was just trying to stick to his guns that the words “mom and dad” are more substantial and loving than “parent”. He felt people didn't try to understand what he was saying.   But he should not have been forced to apologize.  I read his apology in a USA article and his apology did seem sincere to me.

 

Point

#FireAlTrautwig

He should be fired because:

TheBusyFan.com

Conclusion

3

He misinforms the audience about gymnastics. 

Isn’t this what Nadia and Tim is for

Not fired

For this analysis, I’m going to address the individual points made by his detractors individually:

 

In the broadcasts prior to the Olympics, he misinformed us on Maggie Nichol’s knee injury.  It is not as bad as he made it out.

A torn meniscus seems bad to me especially when you pound it to the ground during a vault.  I’m not Maggie’s doctor and neither is the online community.  They gave no evidence of why this injury was overstated and Maggie didn’t make the Olympic team.  Due to lack of evidence, defense wins on this one.

 

He asked Nadia why US is bad at bars, implying US sucks at bars.

 

I don’t think Trautwig ever asked that at least using the term “bad”.  The commentators said bars has traditionally been US’ weakest event. 

 

Due to gross exaggeration, defense wins on this one.

 

Incorrectly said that a male gymnastic was an alternate when he was on the team

 

Agree.  This is an error that shouldn’t have been made.  Point for the prosecution.

 

Referred to a male gymnast’s wife as “his wife” instead of “Mr. Holly Vice”

 

Calling someone’s wife when they are his wife is not misinforming the audience.

 

Note:  The fanbase calls this male gymnast by his wife’s name instead of his own name because his wife was on the world’s women’s team.  I want to note that I actually really like Holly and love this couple. 

 

But you can’t claim misinformation by Trautwig for referring a competing gymnast’s wife as his wife when they are married.

 

Due to gross sexism and female chauvinism, slam dunk for the defense and stern warning from Judge Judy to the gymcastic podcast to stop screaming in my ear.

 

“Disgustingly” said that Simone Biles came from a broken home.

 

Some people don’t like the term “broken home” so I’ll give this one to the prosecution although I don’t think it warrants a “disgusting” adjective. 

 

 

Point

#FireAlTrautwig

He should be fired because:

TheBusyFan.com

Conclusion

4

Al Trautwig is a jerk on twitter

Al Trautwig has a twitter?

Maybe he should be fired

After googling and reading the article linked below, I’ll give this one to the prosecution.  I have sympathy for the person who tries to follow a public person they are interested in and then gets exposed to nasty tweets.  That has happened to me and it is really disappointing. 

 

http://www.dailydot.com/unclick/al-trautwig-twitter-beef-olympics/

 

However, I don’t think Al Trautwig was responding to compliments on twitter. If the gymnastics fanbase wasn't so hostile toward him, he may be nicer and listen more to the critisim.   And why is the online gymnastics community  reading twitters of someone they hate?  There are lots of good blogs and commentary out there that explain why people continue to read their enemy’s tweets.  I’ll just say, none of it looks good for the twitter reader and complainer. 

 

Point

#FireAlTrautwig

He should be fired because:

TheBusyFan.com

Conclusion

5

He is stupid. He’s fake. He’s a pervert and an annoying little twit.

Geez.  Does the online gymnastic community like anyone besides the gymnasts and themselves?

Whoever wrote this should be fired

 This came from

https://gymtruthteller.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/top-10-biggest-assholes-in-gymnastics/

 

But right below Al Trautwig is Nastia Liukin, whom I love.  They also hate Marta Karolyi, Nellie Kim and The International Federation of Gymnastics.

 

This article has no creditability in my mind.  It just makes me feel the hardcore fanbase is represented by angry and loud opinions.

 

Point

#FireAlTroutwig

He should be fired because:

TheBusyFan.com

Conclusion

6

The hater says: “I cannot even begin to comment on the outright chauvinist, inane, belittling nature of this piece of commentating!”

Geez.  What does the online community have against weddings?

Not fired

 This came from

http://couch-gymnast.blogspot.com/2008/09/they-said-what.html

 

Here is the full quote:

 

"It’s like having a tear in your wedding dress right before you walk down the aisle.”

 

Al Trautwig on Nastia Liukins ankle injury right before a comp. (Pretty sure it was at American Cup.)

I cannot even begin to comment on the outright chauvinist, inane, belittling nature of this piece of commentating! Of course that is all Nastia has on her mind to compare to her athletic career, Al, her potential wedding day!

 

This is another WTHeck moment for me.  The author “can’t begin to comment” because his or her rant makes no sense.  I think Trautwig’s analogy communicates pretty well what it must feel like to work so hard for a competition and then get injured.

 

His quote was not for Nadia.  It was for the audience.  Articles like this make me thing the online community seems to think gymnastics only exist for the gymnasts and their hardcore fans. Just screw the millions of causal and 4 year fans, they seem to think.   It’s entertainment and big business that millions of people who aren't obsessed with gymnastics love.   It’s not like the gymnasts and FIG aren’t benefiting from the TV coverage.  If the gymnastics community really does have so little respect for the casual viewer, then have your “invitation only” meets where you pay for it yourselves. 

 

Point

#FireAlTrautwig

He should be fired because:

TheBusyFan.com

Conclusion

7

The hater claims "More important than anything other evidence submitted, Mr. Trautwig often makes inappropriate comments about the often underage women, be it sexist or racist."

I think he tries to hard to be “cool”

Maybe

 

This is from the http://www.thepetitionsite.com/633/135/129/remove-al-trautwig-from-nbc-gymnastics-coverage/.

 

I searched online to find specific inappropriate sexist and racist comments he has made.  I found an article by Dvora Meyers who wrote the book, The End of the Perfect 10, which I loved and was thought was extremely well researched and great for the casual fan. 

 

The article is here:

 

http://www.unorthodoxgymnastics.com/2012/03/al-trautwigs-finest-work.html

 

Trautwig apparently said New Yorkers are humon potholes. (I'm struggling here to understand exactly what was said.) Meyers responds “Yes, there definitely seems to be something vaguely racist (and definitely gross) about what Trautwig was saying though someone was telling me that during the coverage of the NYC marathon he also said something about human potholes.”  Earlier in the article, she claims Trautwig said about  Bronx native John Orozco "His road to this American Cup is a lot like the streets of New York--filled with human potholes."

 

I don’t understand her article or his comment.  I also live in New York City and I’m I live in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city and have been to the Bronx many, many times.  I didn’t associate “human pothole” with racism like Meyer's did.  My first thought of what a New York “Human Pot Hole” could be is they are the highly competitive wall street financial colleagues who did everything they could to get ahead including lying and stealing my work when I worked in the finance industry for 12 years.  To make it in NYC, you have to be tough and competitive and John Orozco made it like any other New Yorker.  "Human Pot Holes" could have been a reference to the black community or the Bronx but I don’t think that is obvious and the article didn't present great evidence of that. Could it simply have just been all the hurtles that New Yorkers face trying to be successful in this city?

 

I couldn’t find any other “racist” comments.

 

http://www.vogue.com/13466818/sexist-moments-olympics-coverage/ claims Trautwig made a sexist comment when he talked about Sanne Wevers writing in her diary during the meet.  Again, I don’t get it.  How is that sexist?  Only women would be writing journals or calculate their scores?

 

 

The only valid feedback I got was when I talked to other casual fans to research this post. I got feedback in person from someone who hates Al Trautwig because she heard him compare Shawn Johnson’s routine to Carmen Electra.  To her, this was an offensive and sexist comment.  Based on her explanation and not anything I can find online, I’m going to give this one to the hardcode fans.  Although, I think they should explain their criticisms more carefully and give more concrete examples if they want to influence me.

 

 

 

Point

#FireAlTroutwig

He should be fired because:

TheBusyFan.com

Conclusion

8

I don't spend any time at all learning what an Amanar is

 

"Another thing is that the four apparatus don't score the same way!" (maybe because they're different events)

Why is this an issue when Nadia and Tim know what this is?

 

He’s just telling the truth here.  Why should he be fired for telling the truth?

Maybe he should be fired

 

These comments are coming from the online petition.  The petition has almost reached its goal of 5000 signatures.

 

I don’t want to disrespect the people who signed this petition.  I can’t scroll through all the comments but most seem to be about Simone Biles parents comment which I understand why this people would people would sign and think those are valid.

 

Most have no comments.  Others just make general opinions and don’t give specific examples.  I’m not saying the opinions don’t have merit.  But I’m not seeing any valid evidence in comments that point to lewd, stupid or racist statements made by Traughtwig.

 

Here are some of the  given links from the comments

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5MC0A1Ikrc.  The petitioner claims this is evidence of lewd comments.  But if you read the Utube comments, the majority don’t agree.  “What the man said is not creepy at all” , “That's not creepy😁”  I don’t  think this is good evidence to get him fired.