RANCHO PALOS VERDES, CALIF. ― Gabby Douglas is one inspiring woman.
Over the summer, the gold medal-winning Olympic gymnast faced vicious online attacks about her hair, her facial expressions and the fact that she did not place her hand on her heart during one medal ceremony.
She spoke candidly on Tuesday afternoon during a conversation with fellow Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad and author Luvvie Ajayi at the MAKERS Conference, about just how difficult it was to deal with the (racist, sexist) backlash:
In Rio I got the brunt of it. It was so bad. I won a gold medal at the team competition and I would go back to my room and see everything [online], and I would literally cry my eyes out. I would talk to myself, like, “Gabby, you just won a gold medal! Be happy!” But it was so much.
And I didn’t qualify to certain competitions that I worked so hard for. So when people didn’t get that, like, [they would say] “Oh, why is she mad?” Because I literally broke my body for this sport. If you don’t get what you want, like a job or something, you’re gonna be sad! It’s human nature. So when people didn’t get that, I was devastated.
Douglas also revealed just how much it meant to have people stand up and publicly defend her.
“I literally felt that the world was against me,” she said, “and Leslie Jones started this hashtag [#LOVE4GABBYUSA], and to know that I had so much more love than hate, I could wipe a little bit of tears away. It felt amazing.”
Unfortunately, the ridiculous critiques Douglas faced are indicative of much larger issues. Later on in the conversation, Muhammad spoke about the double standards and higher levels of scrutiny that athletes of color ― especially women athletes of color ― often face.
“As African-American athletes, you’re just kind of almost held to a different standard,” said Muhammad. “And even though you’ve won a medal and you’re standing on the stage representing your country, there’s always someone that’s gonna pick a photo with a fine-tooth comb and say, ‘Oh, well this is what makes her unpatriotic, this is what makes her different.’”
Luckily, there’s a whole lot more love than hate around for both of these incredible athletes.