Playing Nice: Are the Olympics Eroding Our Civility?

Reminder: It's never OK to call Shirley Leung—or any woman—the c-word, even if you disagree with her about the Olympics.

Late last night, a female journalist was called a word too often used to demean women and (futilely) invalidate their opinions.

That this journalist was the tendentious Shirley Leung of the Boston Globe, that she is the highest profile Boston media booster of a Boston Olympics and the city’s captains of industry, that the Games could leave the taxpayers on the hook for however much—none of that matters. You do not call a woman, the c-word. Period.

Early Thursday morning, Leung tweeted a link to a piece by Olympic insider Alan Abrahamson. She noted Abrahamson being from from Los Angeles, which was passed over by the United State Olympic Committee earlier this year, and has since been reportedly licking its chops for Boston 2024 to fail once and for all.

Upon receiving backlash for this apparent trivialization of Abrahamson’s work, which featured several IOC members sharing their doubts about Boston’s Olympic bid, Leung said she was embarrassed by the city and Boston 2024. “Engagement is one thing, but uncivil discourse is another,” she tweeted.

In a since-deleted tweet, Jay Fallon, a vociferous critic of Boston 2024, entered into uncivil discourse.

Leung Fallon

When confronted by several members of No Boston 2024, Fallon initially doubled down. He called his remark “democracy in action” and said the gendered slur is merely a word; that he has no qualms using it to refer to someone “cheerleading a scam like this,” and whoever took offense could tell “the favelas in Rio who are being displaced at gunpoint.” Friday morning, Fallon apologized and Leung accepted.

Leung once again finds herself at the white-hot center of Olympic dialogue. In response to her May 21 “no means yes” open letter to the USOC, CommonWealth magazine executive editor Michael Jonas called Leung “the undisputed cheerleader-in-chief for the Boston 2024 effort.” His editorial sparked a good ol’ fashioned Boston media war, drawing the ire of Globe editor-in-chief Brian McGrory, who called Jonas’ remarks vapid and disturbing, and his nickname “Pom-Pom Leung,” deeply sexist. McGrory’s over-the-top letter, conveniently leaked to media blogger Jim Romenesko, was the latest salvo in simmering tensions between the quarterly policy journal and the city’s broadsheet of record.

It ought now to be clear to McGrory what real, repugnant sexism looks like—not a 527-word piece challenging Leung’s ideas, but a single disgusting one, challenging her right, as a woman, to share them.

There are two conclusions we ought to be careful not to jump to here. The first, that Fallon’s remarks are indicative of those held by No Boston 2024, who serve little purpose other than to harangue Olympics supporters on Twitter. “None of us have ever met him,” Robin Jacks (@caulkthewagon) of No Boston 2024 tells Boston magazine, adding that Fallon is not a member of the organizing group. No Boston 2024, unaffiliated with Chris Dempsey’s No Boston Olympics, has been on the vanguard using public records requests to shed light on the at-times questionable interplay between bid organizers and public officials.

The second, that opposition to the late-night Twitter ramblings of one critic somehow necessitates support of Boston 2024. That’s just silly.

Do I agree with what Leung writes? Almost exclusively not. While she may compare Bostonians skeptical about a three-week, $10 billion enterprise to tantrum-throwing two-year-olds, it is important to remember—as heated as this all-consuming debate may grow—that a real-life two-year-old calls Leung “Mom.”