I’m sick of the vile comments and the aggressive take down of Gabby Douglas on social media. All parents and folks of good conscious should be standing up for Gabby. Very few people can even imagine the pressure that a 19-year-old feels on the world stage and having to compete at the highest level with the world’s best gymnast. It’s unfathomable.
Add to this, the 2012 Olympic Games. At those games, Gabby was talked about in as, if not more, glowing terms as her US teammate, Simone Biles. The pundits used terms like “first ever,” “best in the world,” and “phoneme.” Coming into the games, the attention has clearly made a dramatic shift and Gabby was no longer “America’s golden child.” All eyes and attention were on Simone. Some even question the legitimacy of Gabby’s spot on the US team given her performance in the trials.
But, she makes it. What should’ve been one of the most exciting times in her life as one a few gymnast that have ever competed in consecutive Olympic Games, has turned into a nightmare. Her mom reports that she has had several tearful breakdowns and is struggling with the barrage of attack on social media. From her hair, her failure to place her hand on her heart at a medal ceremony to accusations of pouting in the stands as her teammates competed in the all around finals, Gabby has been dubbed “Crabby Gabby.”
This endless attacks are disturbing on so many levels. First, has everyone forgotten that she is only 19 years old! We are setting expectations for her that even 40-year-olds would find hard to meet. Athletes at her level place additional levels of pressure on themselves to perform. Her failure to make the all around competition, must’ve been devastating. Her “pouting” is much more likely related to her own sense of failure than any envy over the success of her teammates.
As the mother to aspiring professional tennis players, I’ve had to counsel them through losses on many occasions. I’ve watched them fall apart after a match and spend an entire weekend in various forms of sadness. They weren’t jealous of their opponents, but rather were upset with themselves because they failed to achieve the extremely high goals they had set.
Next, words matter. As much as a parent tells their kids to ignore what people say about them, it’s almost impossible to do so. Again, Gabby is 19 and like most teens her whole life is on the Internet. Telling her to not go on Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is like telling a dog not to bark. And no matter how many times her parents and family members speak to her and cherish her, the ugly comments from complete strangers are hurtful and hard to overlook. Leslie Jones was so exasperated by her social media attacks that she temporarily closed her Twitter account.
Finally, the vicious attacks on Gabby are the worse form of cyber bullying. Sadly, once these statements are posted they are impossible to remove and can hunt her for a lifetime. Although we don’t know what’s going on with Gabby beyond the crying spells, we have concrete evidence that there is a direct correlation between bullying and suicide amongst teens. According to a study by Yale University, bully victims or 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. The kinds of hurtful statements posted about her and the rumors that she is unpatriotic can lead her to a place of no return and result in depression, anxiety and withdrawal.
This must end.
As a lawyer, I I want to use every available avenue to hold her attackers accountable. This includes sending cease-and-desist letters and suing anyone that defames her. I also want those that are threatening her to know that they can be criminally prosecuted.
As a mother, I want to wrap my arms around Gabby and remind her of how special she is and how much she has accomplished. I want to tell her that it doesn’t matter if she has straight or curly hair, she is beautiful. I want her to know that I know she isn’t jealous of her peers and has never disrespected her position on team USA.
A person who shouted from the rafters when Michelle Obama said “when they go low, we go high,” I want to believe that we can do better. Our humanity won’t allow us to continue to tear down rather than build up a teenager that has achieved so much and who is deserving of nothing short of unconditional love and support. Gabby is not just a gymnast and a member of Team USA, she is our daughter, sister and friend. Let’s treat her as such!