It shouldn’t be this way, but the Olympics have been a trial for Gabby Douglas, who has drawn harsh criticism on social media for not placing her hand over her heart on the medal stand during the playing of the national anthem and for the style of her hair.
Douglas, the 20-year-old gymnastics gold medalist, admitted Sunday that the digs have taken a toll and her mother lashed out at critics she says have bullied her daughter.
“When they talk about my hair or me not putting my hand up on my heart or me being very salty in the stands, they’re really criticizing me, and it doesn’t really feel good,” Douglas tearfully told reporters now that her Olympic events are over. “It was a little bit hurtful.”
The darling of the London Olympics, Douglas faced social media criticism for her hair in 2012, but it was nothing like what she faced this time around, when she was also ripped for not appearing happy in the stands as her teammates competed.
“Everything I’ve gone through has been a lot this time around,” Douglas said, “and I apologize if [I seemed] really mad in the stands. I wasn’t. I was supporting Aly [Raisman]. And I always will support them and respect them in everything they do. I never want anyone to take it as I was jealous or I wanted attention. Never. I support them, and I’m sorry that I wasn’t showing it.
“I’ve been through a lot. I still love them. I still love the people who love me. Still love them who hate me. I’m just going to stand on that.”
Douglas’s mother, Natalie Hawkins, described her daughter as heart-broken in an interview with Reuters.
“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 teammates. Now you’re ‘Crabby Gabby,’ ” Hawkins said.
“You name it and she got trampled. What did she ever do to anyone?”
Douglas apologized if anyone was offended that she had not placed her hand over her heart on the podium and Hawkins pointed out that citizenship is more than placing your hand over your heart during the national anthem.
“I don’t think respecting your country or your flag boils down to whether you put your hand over your heart or not,” Hawkins said. “It’s in your actions towards your country, how well are you abiding by its laws, how well are you helping your fellow citizens?
Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel writes that Douglas seemed different four years after London, but that hardly excused the nastiness she encountered on social media.
Here in Rio, at age 20, she didn’t merely fail to match her old peppiness and excitement. She also struggled to maintain at least the illusion of it. In gymnastics, sometimes you have to fake it. Like it or loathe it, that’s how it works.
Sources close to Team USA say Douglas maintains a level of distance with some of the staff and her teammates. That came through to many watching back in the United States.
Some of it is rooted in discomfort, if not outright racism, of the critics. Some fans were outraged that she didn’t put her hand over her heart during a medal ceremony or didn’t cheer hard enough for a teammate or sat off to the side by herself during the meet. Truth is, they would have found some other reason to hate on her. Sadly, that’s always been the case when it comes to Gabby.
After Gabby’s comments Sunday, the social media peanut gallery appeared to be softening its stance. Or perhaps it had just moved on.
Twitter was horrible on Gabby Douglas. Twitter is rallying for Gabby Douglas. pic.twitter.com/RBBL6pMJm8
— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) August 15, 2016
Maybe it will all die down when Douglas goes on a barnstorming tour with the team after the Olympics and makes a move from Columbus, Ohio, where she has trained for two years, to Los Angeles.
“When you go through a lot and you have so many difficulties and people against you sometimes, it kind of just determines your character,” she said (via the Associated Press). “Are you going to stand or are you going to crumble? I have no regrets coming back for a second Olympic team. It’s been an amazing experience. It’s been teaching me a lot.”