Gabby Douglas has been through quite a rollercoaster of emotions during her time in Rio, and she’s opening up about how hurtful the social media backlash has been.
From harsh comments about her hair to people accusing her of bleaching her skin to being called disrespectful during the national anthem, the gold medalist has endured a great deal of criticism.
After making history in London as the first African American to win gold in the individual all-around and stealing another gold in London, Gabby should have a ton to celebrate. But instead, Gabby’s mom, Natalie Hawkins, says her daughter is “heartbroken” over all that has happened over her last four years in the spotlight.
“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,” said Hawkins. “Then it went to not supporting your team mates. Now you’re ‘Crabby Gabby.'”
“You name it and she got trampled. What did she ever do to anyone?”
Hawkins was completely baffled as to how her daughter could be called disrespectful and unpatriotic considering they are so closely tied to the military community. She added that her daughter always “stands at attention” during the anthem, which is a common habit for members of the military.
“I don’t think respecting your country or your flag boils down to whether you put your hand over your heart or not,” she said. “We grew up in the military community. My mom 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. When the Star Spangled Banner is played, most military members either salute or stand to attention.”
Hawkins says her 20-year-old daughter has cried “many tears” over the intense bullying she’s faced during the games in Rio.
Gabby shared how the social media bullying has affected her with ESPN:
“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 [on the medal podium] or I look depressed… It was hurtful. It was hurtful. It was. It’s been kind of a lot to deal with.”
She further elaborated on the anthem incident that has received so much negative attention:
“I apologized if I offended anyone…I’ve always said it was an honor to represent the U.S. You always do this for your country, and then, like people say, for yourself and other people. When I heard some of the comments, I was finally like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, that’s far from me and far from my personality at all,'” Douglas said. “I’ve been through a lot. A lot. Sometimes I sit back and say, ‘Wait. What did I do to disrespect people? What have I done to disrespect the USA?”
“I don’t get that part,” she said through tears. “I’m sorry.”
Well, I’m sorry, but enough is enough. With all due respect, this Olympic champ has nothing to be sorry for, and it’s time America pays a little more respect to those who are representing their country. It’s easy for us to sit behind the comfort of our computer screens and spew insults at people when we don’t know the full story or the heart behind their actions.
After winning the individual all-around gold in 2012 and taking home the team gold in 2016, we may be inclined to put Douglas (and other Olympians) on a pedestal of perfection and act like they are superhuman—but they have flaws, and feelings, and raw emotions too.
We can’t continue to make judgment calls about somebody’s character through snippets of what we see of them in the media.
What many don’t know is that Gabby has faced the struggles of homelessness, an absentee father and even considered quitting right before the 2012 Olympics to work at Chick-fil-A. She has endured so much to get where she is today, and it has been her faith in Jesus that has kept her persevering through it all.
When asked by Christianity Today what has shaped her faith, she replied:
It has been a lifelong thing. My mom has always exposed me and my siblings to Christianity. I take my Bible with me, sometimes two of them, when I travel. I’ve watched myself at the Olympics, I watched the all-around finals, my grandfather DVR’ed it, and I saw my mouth moving—that was me praying. I always pray at every competition, when the judge’s hand goes up I am praying, and there are little Scriptures I like to quote. That keeps me motivated when I am about to go out on the competition floor. I would say little short prayers, quoting Scriptures: I can do all things through Christ, don’t fear, be courageous. Little things like that get me motivated.
In response to winning the all-around in 2012, Gabby said, “I give all the glory to God. It’s kind of a win-win situation. The glory goes up to him and the blessings fall down on me.”
Perhaps there is more going on in “Crabby Gabby’s” head than meets the eye. Just because she doesn’t always hold the countenance we would deem appropriate for the situation, that doesn’t mean we have the right to judge her intentions.
How about we take a look at what’s inside Gabby’s heart instead of focusing on her not putting her hand over it?