This year’s Olympics have been a historic one, especially for black athletes.
Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas are collecting medal after medal in gymnastics, Usain Bolt is solidifying his status as fastest man in the world and Carmelo Anthony is dominating the boards in basketball. All of that is on top of the slew of black athletes breaking barriers and becoming the first to accomplish new heights in their respective sports (Simon Manuel in swimming, Daryl Homer and Ibtihaj Muhammad in fencing and Michelle Carter just to name a few).
What makes their victories sweeter is the fact that so many youngsters are watching it all happen.
Throughout the Rio games, parents have been sharing photos and stories of their kids paying homage to the athletes at this year’s Olympics who inspire them.
One proud mother captured her daughter imitating a balance beam routine during a Biles performance.
Another mother captured her daughter in front of Manuel shortly after her historic victory. The win motivated this ambitious kid to proclaim “I got next!”
A father tweeted a photo of his son watching the men’s 10,000 meter race in awe.
Even Shonda Rhimes shared her daughter’s new self-proclaimed name inspired by gymnast Gabby Douglas.
And former NFL player Prince Miller shared that his daughter wants to be just like Biles and Douglas when she grows up.
These images ― in addition to being adorable ― are powerful testaments to how representation influences children. The images kids see of people who look like them on TV can decrease their self-esteem, unless they are white males, a 2012 study found. Their self-perception can literally be altered by what they see in media. That’s why it’s so significant for kids to see positive images of people who look like them on TV.
Whether these Olympians know it or not, they are reaching back to pull forward. Though their participation at the Olympics is based on merit and not a selection committee, it’s special when a child can see someone who looks like them representing their country. This rings especially true for sports that black people have historically been denied access to, like swimming and fencing. Because of athletes like Manuel and Homer, these kids and millions more are able to assert that they, too, can take home the gold one day and pave the way for others.
That is why representation matters.