Gabby Douglas is a two-time Olympian who is used to facing fierce competition in her sport, but her mom says she has been having a hard time dealing with a new wave of social media criticism at the Rio Games.
“She’s had to deal with people criticizing her hair, or people accusing her of bleaching her skin. They said she had breast enhancements, they said she wasn’t smiling enough, she’s unpatriotic. Then it went to not supporting your team mates. Now you’re ‘Crabby Gabby’,” Douglas’ mom Natalie Hawkins said in an interview with Reuters. “You name it and she got trampled. What did she ever do to anyone?”
Last week, some online critics called the 20-year-old gymnast unpatriotic after she didn’t place her hand over her heart when the Star Spangled Banner was played when Team U.S.A. won the all-around finals. Later, Douglas explained that she always “stands at attention” when the National Anthem is played, which her mother was quick to defend.
“I don’t think respecting your country or your flag boils down to whether you put your hand over your heart or not,” Hawkins said. “We grew up in the military community. My mom spent almost 30 years in the military, my dad’s a two-time Vietnam vet. Because of that it was so insulting that they would accuse my daughter of being unpatriotic when we are so tied to the military family … When the Star Spangled Banner is played, most military members either salute or stand to attention.”
Douglas has also been criticized by people on social media for appearing to not support her teammates Aly Raisman and Simone Biles when they won the silver and gold, respectively, during the all-around individual finals. (Raisman later noted that Douglas was very supportive when the girls were in the privacy of their Olympic Village dorm.)
Hawkins said she thought her daughter was “being bullied” and they had cried “many tears” over the harsh reaction at this year’s Games. “What was going through her head was ‘I’m being attacked for everything I do so I might as well not do anything. Because no matter what I do, I am being attacked.’ ”
Hawkins also added that her daughter is “heartbroken” and is struggling with the harsh glare of life in the spotlight.
It’s undeniable that Douglas has faced her fair share of often unfounded criticism in social media. In the London 2012 Games she made history by becoming the first African-American gymnast to win an Olympic all-around title, but many critics online focused instead on her hairstyle.
There’s also no denying that this year’s Olympics has been less successful for Douglas, despite supporting her team to win the all-around gold on Tuesday. Douglas didn’t manage to qualify for the all-around individual final because of the “two-athletes-per-country” rule and she ranked 7th in the uneven bar finals on Sunday – an event that she usually excels in.