I was pained to learn that gold medalist Gabby Douglas endured racism so hurtful that she would go home and secretly cry her eyes out. Things were so bad, her mother added, the "flying squirrel" almost quit the sport.
Sad but not necessarily shocking. We've come a heck of a long way since Jim Crow, but anyone with a TV or Internet should know that hate -- in many forms -- is still very much alive and kicking around this country. To me, what is more surprising than Gabby's claims is the backlash she is receiving because she was brave enough to share what happened to her.
When her former coach and gymnasts from Excalibur Gymnastics in Virgina got wind of what Gabby told Oprah Winfrey, they shot down the idea that a racist incident could ever happen at the facility. Like it was humanly impossible for some uber-competitive, Olympian-wannabe to throw out vicious barbs.
"The accusations that are being made against the gymnasts and coaches are just sickening," Excalibur's Randy Stageburg told 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's just now coming up."
They paint the picture of a training facility that was all sunshine, roses, and hand-holding before each front tuck. To that I say "bulls**t." Now, I'm no elite athlete, but I am a woman and I know that we are quite capable of hitting another girl -- especially one we view as serious competition -- where it hurts. And what hurts a teenage girl most is not fitting in, being considered different, and not being accepted.
In a sea of pampered, privileged athletes that rotated through that gym, Gabby was one who had financial hardships. I am sure there were other cash-strapped girls there too, but it was clear she had that something special that would take her all the way. That made her a real threat. That, I have no doubt, made her a target to some fellow contenders.
I also take issue with the quip about Gabby never telling anyone about the mistreatment. In their mind, if something really happened, she would have complained. I think it’s incredulous that this is considered evidence that she is lying now. Gabby was a scared kid, alone in a strange community, being bullied by snooty, entitled kids. Of course she didn't tell. Lots of bullied kids don’t tell. It’s embarrassing, hurtful, and telling often results in intensified cruelty. As a parent and woman of color, I feel for this child. She felt different on many levels (racially and economically) and that may be something a lot of these critics just can't understand.
This shouldn't be so hard to accept as true. People say and do awful things all the time. That is the reality of our world. No one probably came forward to complain about mistreatment, but that doesn't mean there weren't signs that certain girls were being ostracized and maligned in some way. I think deep down they know this could have happened there, but to save face, I doubt they will ever admit it.
Do you think Gabby was being honest about what she experienced at Excalibur?