There was a bit of controversy at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, this week that actually had nothing to do with North Korea or Vice President Mike Pence, though it did involve what might have been “fake news” from a U.S. media outlet.
USA Today reported Tuesday that the International Olympic Committee had asked two of the three goalies for Team USA Women’s Hockey to remove an image of the Statue of Liberty from their customized protective masks.
A spokesman for USA Hockey, Dave Fischer, told the outlet that “discussions are ongoing” between the team and the IOC over whether goalies Nicole Hensley and Alex Rigsby would have to remove the image from their masks prior to the start of Tuesday’s game against the Olympic Athletes of Russia. (Side note: The U.S. women won by a score of 5-0.)
According to the Washington Examiner, the IOC has a strict policy that prohibits the inclusion on any item of any lyrics or wording from a national anthem, a motivational message, nationalistic slogans or political messages.
It was reported that the image of the Statue of Liberty — located on the left side of Hensley’s mask and on the chin of Rigsby’s mask — might have been in violation of the IOC ban on political messaging.
But as it turns out, that controversy may have been an example of “fake news” rather than the IOC cracking down on American displays of patriotism and the beckoning call of Lady Liberty.
USA Today updated its post later to note that the IOC had allowed for the image to remain on the masks of Hensley and Rigsby ahead of the game against Russian athletes.
CBS Sports offered a more in-depth report on the issue and stated that the two goalies would be permitted to keep their liberty-bearing masks for the duration of the Olympic games.
As CBS noted, the IOC denied the initial USA Today report and claimed that the entire episode was nothing more than a misunderstanding.
On the Team USA hockey helmet 'story' – there seems to have been a misunderstanding, we have not asked for the symbol to be removed
— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) February 13, 2018
It is unclear at this point which side of the story is closer to the truth. Did the IOC really ask the Americans to remove the Statue of Liberty from their masks and then back down? Or was it really all just a misunderstanding that got blown out proportion by the media?
This obviously wouldn’t be the first time that USA Today has perpetuated “fake news,” but it also wouldn’t have been the first time the IOC has attempted to crack down on patriotic or personal messages on goalies’ masks at the Olympic games.
Indeed, a Canadian-born South Korean goaltender had to remove an image of a legendary Korean naval commander from his mask prior to the start of this year’s games, and USA goalie Jesse Vetter had to remove a reference to the U.S. Constitution from her helmet for the 2014 winter games.
In 2010, the IOC tried to force U.S. goalie Ryan Miller to remove an homage to Miller’s cousin who had died from cancer at age 18 from his helmet, but he fought back and was eventually permitted to keep it.
In the end, we can only wonder whether the IOC attempted to crack down on U.S. displays of patriotism and then back down under pressure, or did USA Today attempt to stir the pot and create controversy where there was none?
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