My thoughts on Gabby Douglas

4 years ago in Rio she was America’s Sweetheart, the Flying Squirrel, the first African American woman to win all-around gold at the Olympics. America loved her.
 
 4 years later. 4 years of blood, sweat, and tears; of long days in the gym, of sacrificing a normal life to represent America in the Olympics one more time, and all of a sudden, we treat her like the villain?
 
 What did Gabby Douglas do to us? 
 
 I think I have an answer. I’m not proud of it, but I think I do: She didn’t fit into that perfect box that we had put her in inside our heads. 
 
 Gabby is supposed to be smiling, happy, winning, all the time. That’s how we remember her. Gymnasts are supposed to make the impossible look effortless, right? God forbid we might see some of that effort when she’s not on an apparatus.
 
 Gymnastics is physical, but it is also extremely mental.
 
 Gabby should not have to apologize for whatever mentality she needs to put forward to put her all into her sport. Into making an incredible Olympic comeback. Into competing for her country, for America.
 
 So she didn’t smile enough for you on the sidelines this year? She seemed too focused, too serious? Please tell me, has anyone ever accused Peyton Manning of being too focused? How about Michael Phelps? I mean, at the same time we are vilifying Gabby Douglas for sitting by herself with a frown, we are making memes of Phelps doing the same thing.
 
 Did she not cheer hard enough from the stands? How many times do we analyze the benches of other sports teams and judge them for their enthusiasm? How many of us have had our dreams taken away in an instant, in front of the world? How many of us would have handled something like that with a never-dimming smile? She was there to support her teammates. Maybe she had a few other things on her mind, but can you blame her? 
 
 Ask Aly, ask Simone, they will vouch for her 100% — these women are genuine friends. Yet somehow, without knowing any of them, we must judge them, as if they aren’t judged enough already.
 
 Through all of this, it seems lost that Gabby Douglas helped the United States to yet another team gold medal. But what isn’t lost on us? That her hand wasn’t over her heart during the National Anthem. She must hate America, she must be disrespectful, she must not have a true appreciation for her country or the Olympics — of course we somehow jump to these conclusions.
 
 No way she could have been too caught up in the moment to forget one little thing. It must have been yet another way for her to disrespect the country, the team.
 
 So let’s look back 4 years. What was our reaction to McKayla Maroney’s “not impressed” face while she was on the podium, receiving a silver medal for her country? Surely then she — showing an emotion other than ‘happy, pretty little girl’ — was vilified as well. What disrespect to get silver (to lose out on your lifelong dream) and not look immediately happy about it.
 
 But wait. No one thought that about Maroney (or at least nowhere near to the extent Douglas is getting skewered). She, like Phelps, became a meme. It was funny, not disrespectful. It was understandable, not unsportsmanlike.
 
 So why are we making Gabby Douglas the villain?
 
 I have nothing against Maroney; I’m a big fan. In fact, I believe all athletes (humans?) are entitled to their emotions. I just want to point out the contradiction. 
 
 I can tell you right now that gymnastics is no cakewalk. I did gymnastics for 8 years at the competitive level, completing Level 8 by 10 years of age. I’ve had my share of blood, sweat, and tears. And I can only imagine what it is like at the elite level, especially when all eyes are on you. When the media is writing stories about your hair, your leotards, or your facial expressions, not the achievement you have worked your whole life for.
 
 We need to change the narrative. This is more than a gender issue, more than a race issue, it is a human issue.
 
 Gabby Douglas: one human being to another, you are a true champion.