First of all, lets give credit where credit is due. NBC's coverage of the Beijing Olympics is better than ever with more content, better production, and best of all, with Bob Costas at the helm. NBC has done a great job.
However, take the Opening Ceremonies with its parade of nations, for example. The commentators said something about every country, dropping interesting facts like its geographical location or an interesting anecdote about a certain athlete. So 8.5 million Puerto Ricans watching the ceremonies expected at least the same. Maybe a word about our flag bearer who many believed carried the best hope for a medal in these Olympics, or perhaps a quick mention of how the Puerto Rican National Basketball team was the first one to defeat the Dream Team. Instead, as soon as the Puerto Rico delegation stepped into the stadium all we got was, "and here is Puerto Rico." to be followed by talk of the anticipation for the American delegation and how it was necessary to take a commercial break before they came out. I believe there was at best 3 seconds of on-camera time for the delegation.
This was taken in stride by all Puerto Ricans. Noticed, but taken as what we are made to feel like, an afterthought.
The only other mention of Puerto Rico came during the US v. China basketball game, to remind the American audiences why the Dream Team was now dubbed the Redeem Team. But other than that brief mention, nothing.
Fair enough, I thought. We are not in serious contention for medals in most sports, other than in boxing, and NBC doesn't seem interested in boxing this year. Fine.
But last night Puerto Ricans felt truly ignored and rejected. During coverage of the All ARound Gymnastics finals we knew a Puerto Rican was in the house. Luis Rivera Rivera had made it into the finals and was competing on par with China, the US, Russia, Japan, Germany, and France. Like it has become our custom we did not expect NBC to focus on Rivera, but still we watched. We sat there staring past the foreground and into the events happening in the background looking for Rivera's Olympic uniform. We stayed up and watched.
First its was a blurry figure in the background chalking his hands, then it was a passing glance of his shoulder and another out-of-focus shot of his figure walking off the mat in the distance. We watched all night for any brief mention of his standings. Perhaps an on-screen graphic which could tell us how he was doing. They do it in swimming, so why not put up a simple ordered list of each athlete's standing. Instead when the graphic finally appeared it listed 1st ,2nd, 3rd, 4th, 12th, 14th. WHAT? Was it really too much to ask to show us everyone's standing? Was Rivera in 5th place? Was he in 13th place?
Then there was my mother, who sat all night watching with me, with her film camera intent on catching a glimpse of the first Puerto Rican in over a decade to reach this far into Olympics Gymnastics. She wanted a picture, not because we know him, because we do not. But because he is Puerto Rican. Because every now and then it is nice to know that a Puerto Rican is competing in front of the whole world. Because someday a Puerto Rican will win a Gold Medal and our national anthem will be played for all the world to hear... Someday.
But last night, 8.5 million Puerto Ricans (in the island, in the U.S., in Iraq & Afghanistan, scattered across the world) just wanted to see a glimpse of recognition, a mention of his name for his family in Naguabo, a comment about his chances, or simply just his name and standing in the midst of others in the competition. But we got nothing.
Luis Rivera Rivera, finished 14th in the overall standings. Out of 6.5 billion people on Earth last night he became the 14th best all around gymnast. The third best in the western hemisphere. A Puerto Rican who made us all proud, even if NBC couldn't be bothered.
(From last night's competition at China's National Indoor Stadium at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, here are some pictures from El Nuevo Dia, AP, and Getty News Service)