Olympian Adam van Koeverden Calls Out Fellow Athlete for Sexist Commentary

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Eugenie Bouchard competes in the Women's singles on day 3 of the Olympics in Rio. (Photo: Getty)
Eugenie Bouchard competes in Women’s singles tennis on day 3 of the Olympics in Rio. (Photo: Getty)

Female athletes have a brave new ally in their corner: Adam van Koeverden, an Olympic canoeing champion, penned an op-ed for his sports website Van Kayak on Saturday in which he took his friend Adam Kreek, an Olympic rower, to task for what he called sexist commentary on the Canadian TV network CBC.

Kreek was speaking about fellow Canadian athlete Eugenie Bouchard, a professional tennis player who’s competing in the Games in Rio, when he suggested her loss to Germany’s Angelique Kerber in the women’s singles competition had to do with her interest in beauty, media appearances, endorsements, and her Instagram account, with which he seemed intimately familiar.

Kreek made the indictment during a discussion with sportscaster Ron MacLean, who seemed to be trying to draw out a controversial reaction from Kreek when he asked, “So what about her [Bouchard]? … I think you were kinda hinting at maybe she doesn’t want to be No. 1 in the world right now?”

Kreek took the bait. “Well, I don’t know if she does. Afterwards, when I saw her in the mixed zone [where reporters get immediate postgame reactions from athletes], she loved talking to the media,” he said. “And I go and I look … on her social media, and she’s holding pictures of herself, she’s holding up the toothpaste, and she’s trying out different hairstyles,” he continued in a condescending, singsongy tone. “And … maybe she wants something different than to be a competitor.”

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After Kreek came to the conclusion that Bouchard is competing in the Olympics as “leverage” to score a career in beauty and fashion, MacLean suggested he was being critical. Kreek tried to defuse his judgment by claiming, “I’m trying to not be critical.”

But the damage was done, according to van Koeverden, who threw down the gauntlet in his op-ed, saying that his “friend” Kreek needs “a lesson in feminism,” and calling his words “the kind of tired, regressive, paternalistic, arrogant and sexist commentary that female athletes put up with all the time, and it needs to stop.”

He then said outright, “So here I am, calling out my friend, Adam Kreek. Adam, you were sexist on television last night,” and noted that Kreek himself is not a sexist man, but that “we all grew up in an inherently sexist world, and that we carry around biases and stereotypes that play into a recurrently sexist rhetoric.”

Before launching into the full logistics of his argument, van Koeverden made it clear that women don’t need a man to stand up for them in situations like this, but rather to stand with them, all the time. Referencing Marnie McBean, Chandra Crawford and Annamay Pierse — three female athletes who had slammed the sexist commentary on Twitter — van Koeverden wrote, “I don’t know three athletes more capable of defending themselves in a conversation around feminism and sport than Marnie, Chandra and Annamay. … So I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not sticking up for them or defending women. They don’t need my help.”

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Van Koeverden added, “Good men should feel comfortable challenging each other’s prejudices, and accept criticism when those prejudices get the better of us or when we make a mistake.” He added that the generational divide between male sportscasters and young female Olympians only adds “fuel to the fire,” astutely pointing out that Bouchard is constantly ridiculed for her presence on social media by “male athletes and coaches whose career didn’t coincide with smartphones, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.”

And though Bouchard — like many 22-year-olds — may be interested in beauty, fashion, and social media, van Koeverden doesn’t think that should detract from her extraordinary athletic accomplishments. “I’m sorry, everyone — she was second IN THE WORLD,” he wrote. “That’s number two out of about seven billion. How is that anything short of amazing? I am inspired by Eugenie, and I think she’s awesome.”

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Canadian athlete Penny Oleksiak is another Olympic champ van Koeverden references as a victim of sexism in sports. The 16-year-old swimmer is cleaning up in Rio, yet the Toronto Sun deemed it appropriate to run the headline “Pretty Penny” in its story about her success. “Penny Oleksiak has already won four Olympic medals and she isn’t even old enough to drive a car by herself,” van Koeverden wrote, while lavishing her with compliments about her talent and sportsmanship.

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“Perhaps I’m holding the Sun to an unrealistic standard of journalistic integrity, and I get that alliteration sells newspapers, but COME ON,” he insisted. “She’s the best swimmer of her generation, maybe ever, and the first Olympic champion ever born in the 2000s, and the paper leads with something referencing her appearance? We can do better.”

Kreek replied to the controversy surrounding his commentary in a post on his website this weekend. “In a recent commentary, I questioned Genie Bouchard’s commitment to her matches in Rio based on her focus on social media and sponsorship activities,” Kreek wrote. “It was not fair to place my assumptions directly upon an athlete that I do not know personally. I did not mean for my comments to offend. Nor was it my intention to belittle the pursuit of fashion or selfie-art. For this, I apologize.”

He then gave the female athletes at Rio the kudos they deserve, while justifying his comments as a legitimate question about whether “an athlete [can] perform at their peak while also focusing heavily on sponsorship and social media” — citing that athletes’ focus on media and other outside influences has negatively affected Olympic competitions in the past, specifically the Men’s 8+ in Athens, in which he competed in 2004.

“I believe a contributing factor to our disappointing 5th place finish was our focus on media attention leading up to and during our races,” he wrote. But van Koeverden had already shut down this argument in his essay when he said, “You don’t have to understand social media to accept that it’s a bigger part of someone else’s identity and ego than it may be of your own.”

While Kreek refused to back down from his opinion that “any passion outside our core focus and purpose can be distracting,” he concluded by extending his respect and support to all Canadian athletes.

For the record, Yahoo Style had to dig through many Instagram photos of Bouchard that looked like this:

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… to find one that looked like this:

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