Gabby Douglas is the golden girl with the magic touch. At the 2012 Summer Olympics, she snagged gold medals in both the team all-around and individual all-around in gymnastics, becoming the first African-American woman to ever win the event.
Despite these accomplishments, much of Gabby's spotlight has been shrouded in controversy, first her hair now the bullying.
Last month, Gabby gave a televised interview with the Queen of Talk, Oprah Winfey, where she discussed the Olympics and her experiences with racial bullying and mistreatment at Excalibur, her former training gym in Virginia Beach. While training, Gabby recalled a point in which she was referred to as a slave. According to Gabby, "One of my teammates was like 'Can you scrape the bar?' and they were like 'Why can't Gabby do it? She's our slave."
Additionally, Gabby opened up to Buzz Bissinger of Vanity Fair about her mistreatment at Excalibur. According to him:
"Even more painful was an incident several years ago at a party where Gabby says an Excalibur staff member told her she might want to consider reconstructive surgery on her nose because of its flatness. Some other gymnasts had teased Gabby about her appearance, and she found the nose comment "very hurtful."
After it was all said and done, the people at Excalibur gymnastics shot back, denouncing all accusations, the CEO, even going as far as to call Gabby a "liar". The CEO of Excalibur issued a statement: "I wish to defend the children that trained with her and supported her when she attacks them with these allegations." Excalibur gymnast, Randy Stageburg, wrote to Gymnewstics.com, "Gabby was never a victim, in fact many would say she was one of the favorites. I never once heard her complain about girls being mean, funny how it is just now coming up."
Considering the "hush, hush no tell" policy of bullying, I'm not at all surprised that the administrators were not aware of such instances. I, myself, was bullied in school and I don't ever recall the children admitting to what they had done, nor did I see always see fit to notify an adult, and risk additional put-downs. I'm assuming that Gabby reported the incidents to those she felt she could confide in, and left the issue at that, just because she and her mother chose not to blow up over it, doesn't mean it didn't happen. According to Dodai Stewart of Jezebel.com,
"Often in intense situations -- training to get into the Olympics, for instance -- there's an urge to alleviate the overwhelming pressure, focus and drive with jokes. Most sports have locker room antics: pranks, teasing, and hijinks are methods of letting off steam. But sometimes aggression goes unchecked and "jokes" involve exploiting and othering."
I agree. I think it's also important to consider that not all bullying is physical; much of bullying is emotional and can lead to serious damage to ones self-esteem. Although, the incidents took place several years ago, it's clear Gabby is still struggling to overcome these issues, prompting her to go public about her experiences.
Furthermore, the issue of race seems to be muted altogether, as if it were hard to believe that gymnastics, a sport clearly lacking in racial diversity could ever involve some indication of racism or isolation. All racism is not blatant and can very well be subtle. Clearly, there were other African-Americans at the gym, but this does not mean they shared the same experiences as Gabby. And while I'm uncertain of the experiences of those involved, I can bet that it was much easier to remain in the background, while someone else was the brunt of the joke, which seems to be the case with most bullying whether racial or not.
At the forefront of this controversy are the victims themselves, the endless amount of children that are picked on due to their differences, most of whom, have neither the courage nor the security to speak out about their experiences. I'm certainly glad that Gabby used her platform to shed light on racial bullying. Perhaps it will persuade others to do the same. Yes, it's 2012 and racial bullying, still happens.
Still, I'm baffled as to why the gym did not take measures to investigate, before issuing statements. Perhaps finding out what happened, as opposed to, attacking would have been the best option.
I can only hope, though, that something positive will result from this situation, and that banking on the idea that other African-Americans must share the same experiences, in order to label it an act of racism, will become a thing of the past.