Gabby Douglas Survives The Social Media Circus, and You Can Too

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I’m glad for Gabby. She’s taking a social media malaise, yet she has re-emerged and resurrected her status and her standing because of help from beyond her reach. Movie stars, fellow athletes and others all came to Gabby’s rescue as unknown and unwanted faultfinders heaped and piled on uncalled for criticism about everything from her looks to her hair to her hand not being placed over her heart during the playing of the national anthem.  The heck with her performance, right?  And all she did was her best. 

Gabby Douglas is the decorated Olympic gymnast who won the women’s all around in London. Yet “all” she did was be a part of the “Final Five” who will bring home a team gold medal from Rio. But her individual performance has not been enough to appease some observers on the internet.

Here’s how the Washington Post and the New York Times reported the story:

“After finishing seventh in a field of eight in her lone individual event, the uneven bars, Douglas fought back tears when reporters’ questions about her performance turned to questions about a wide range of criticism that has been directed at her, much of it on social media: about her stance during the playing of the national anthem, her expression in the stands as Simone Biles and Aly Raisman vied for all-around honors, and a perception that she has distanced herself from teammates.

Douglas said she had avoided the Internet while in Rio because of the “negativity,” which she said she didn’t understand.” (Liz Clarke, The Washington Post)

“Douglas, 20, who won the women’s all-around during the London Olympics in 2012, lamented on Sunday that she had been picked apart by people on social media for everything from her appearance — right down to her hair texture — to her behavior during a medal ceremony while the national anthem was being played.

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“When they talk about my hair or not putting my hand over my heart or being very salty in the stands, really criticizing me, for me it was really hurtful,” Douglas, who is African-American, said, according to The Associated Press.

Even her mother, Natalie Hawkins, expressed frustration with the harsh attacks. “They said she had breast enhancements; they said she wasn’t smiling enough, she’s unpatriotic,” Hawkins told Reuters. After some observers noticed that Douglas looked disappointed while watching her teammates succeed, “it went to not supporting your teammates,” her mother said. Hawkins added: “Now you’re ‘Crabby Gabby.’ You name it, and she got trampled. What did she ever do to anyone?”

The Olympics have always been fertile ground for cutthroat competition and narratives about fallen heroes, but observers on social media can distort those stories and take them to extremes — while still expecting athletes to smile and act gracefully when they lose.

Athletes have never been as accessible as they are right now — especially those like Douglas and Franklin who rely on social media to build a fanbase and share sponsored posts from brands they endorse, like United Airlines and Gillette razors.

That accessibility becomes a double-edged sword when they do not perform as well as they should, or if fans catch a whiff of jealousy, bad behavior or team infighting.

But if we have learned anything from social media’s power to tear down idols, it is that the same tools can be used to build someone back up. By Monday, #LOVE4GABBYUSA was being spread across Twitter by fans who wanted to help Douglas feel better despite the onslaught of abuse.” (Katie Rogers, The New York Times)

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So here’s to Gabby and to those who rose to her rescue.  And maybe, just maybe, when you or I see someone being unfairly gang tackled, we’ll rise to their rescue too.