Online Comments Taking Its Toll on US Gymnast Gabby Douglas
While gold medalist U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas should be having the time of her life in her final Olympics, online bullies are making that difficult, according to Douglas’s mother, Natalie Hawkins.
In an interview with Reuters published on Aug. 14, Hawkins said the constant criticism of her daughter’s appearance and behavior at this year’s Rio Olympics has become overwhelming for the 20-year-old.
“She’s had to deal with people criticizing her hair, or people accusing her of bleaching her skin. They said she had breast enhancements, they said she wasn’t smiling enough, she’s unpatriotic. Then it went to not supporting your team mates. Now you’re ‘Crabby Gabby’,” said Hawkins.
“You name it and she got trampled. What did she ever do to anyone?”
During the London Summer Games in 2012, Douglas became the first African-American gymnast to win the Olympic all-around title, yet was berated relentlessly about her hair.
After the U.S. women’s gymnastics team received gold medals for the all-around title in Rio, Douglas’s patriotism came into question when she didn’t place her right hand over her heart when the national anthem played. Hawkins said such a criticism is unwarranted, given the family’s military background.
“We grew up in the military community. My mum spent almost 30 years in the military, my dad’s a two-time Vietnam vet. Because of that it was so insulting that they would accuse my daughter of being unpatriotic when we are so tied to the military family,” Hawkins said. “When the Star Spangled Banner is played, most military members either salute or stand to attention.”
She added, “I don’t think respecting your country or your flag boils down to whether you put your hand over your heart or not. It’s in your actions towards your country, how well are you abiding by its laws, how well are you helping your fellow citizens?”
The ongoing attacks on Gabby haves brought the young athlete to tears according to Hawkins.
ESPN reporter Johnette Howard described a scene she said was hard to watch:
“After Douglas thanked everyone in the press area and gave way to Madison Kocian, who won the silver medal in the uneven bars competition, she walked down the hallway at Olympic Arena. Then Douglas stood in a corner, facing a wall, and had a good, long cry.”
Just prior, she was asked about the constant attacks, to which she replied: “I tried to stay off the internet because there’s just so much negativity.”
“Either it was about my hair or my hand not over my heart or I look depressed. … It was hurtful. It was hurtful. It was. It’s been kind of a lot to deal with.”
Hawkins, a single mother of four, has found it difficult to just sit back and watch her daughter face the vitriol of naysayers, but is proud to call Douglas her daughter.
“I want … people to show me if they have ever seen Gabrielle being disrespectful … or say something inappropriate. There is nothing, because for her, being a role model is such a supreme honor,” she said. “It’s a huge honor for me to be her mother as she’s the bravest person I know.”