Gabby Douglas: Golden Girl
Let the coronation of the 2012 US Women’s Olympic Gymnastic Team begin.
After an absolutely dominant showing in the team gymnastics events, yesterday the American women soared to nab team gold, the first for our country since the Magnificent Seven in 1996. All that separates us from fielding perhaps one of the greatest women’s gymnastics teams ever, and definitely one of the best American groups in any event, is a strong showing in the individual overall and apparatus medals. To do so, we must continue crush the Russians and the Chinese who broke down more so than were overpowered in the team final.
The congratulations for the “Fab Five”, as we’re now calling the group (although I think the name draws unfortunate visions of Chris Webber calling phantom time outs), is both uproarious and well-earned. However, most of the media coverage (most notably, the completely egregious coverage from NBC, which is more akin to the storyline-creating taping of reality shows than actual sports coverage) is totally unfair in what I think is a kind-of-racist-type way. At the very least in a way that is completely unfair to four members of the squad.
I can’t come up with an exact number, but it seems like 70% of the buzz surrounding and following the gold medal-winning performances yesterday was about Jordyn Wieber, who despite being considered perhaps the favorite for the all-around individual gold medal, did not even qualify for the final in the events. She was a valuable cog in the team’s success, but certainly not the only one, and she didn’t offer more than the other gymnasts. But all of the coverage was about her, from NBC cameras focusing on her after the medal ceremonies, to people referring to it as “Jordyn’s Gold” or “Jordyn’s Redemption.” All this after she lost her spot pretty uncontroversially. There were no questionable deductions or unethical goings on. She just didn’t get it done and other people did. It’s the Olympics. That happens.
My problem isn’t with the over-coverage of Jordyn as much as it is with the fact that that coverage came at the expense of attention for the other members of the team who were just as deserving (perhaps more), especially the two minorities, Kyla Ross, of mixed Black, Asian, and Puerto Rican ancestry, and Gabby Douglas, who is Black. A quick Google News search finds that Jordyn Wieber has more than three times the number of articles and references than Gabby and Kyla combined, and that Aly has twice as many as Gabby. That’s crazy given the fact that Gabby was clearly the most dominant of the American gymnasts and perhaps the most dominant individual performer so far in these Olympics. The most terrible example (beyond NBC, which glammed up on Jordyn so hard that Gabby was often literally blurred out of shots) is from the Washington Post Express, which doesn’t even mention Gabby in its article and only has a picture of the back of her head.
All of the competitive elements are better summed up on The Crunk Feminist Collective’s tumblr post on it. I make no claims of actually understanding gymnastics, and I openly wondered why the gymnasts couldn’t receive extra points for performing the Superhero Three Point Landing on dismounts. All I know is that Gabby did more events better than any other American gymnast and qualified for the individual medals, but received much less credit and coverage. This really smacks of at least a tiny bit of racism, or at least of a sense of White girl entitlement to winning. If Gabby had failed to qualify for anything, would NBC have done near as much to create the same story line from the ether as they did for Jordyn? The answer is obviously “no.” Our culture, NBC as the culprit in particular, cares so much about the White gymnast that we pay attention more when she loses fairly than when the Black girl gymnast puts on one of the greatest shows we’ve seen in years and carries the squad to the Gold. Jordyn is the American golden girl while Gabby is still…the Flying Squirrel.
Which brings me to another point. The coverage issues around Gabby Douglas aren’t merely the result of insensitive majority-controlled outlets. We haven’t done a great job of embracing Gabby positively as Black folks ourselves. Every time I saw her on TV, I saw just as many people disparaging her for her looks and hair as I did people actually praising her herculean work. Again, I don’t have scientific numbers on this, but the fact that “Gabby Douglas” as a Google search term doesn’t far outpace “Gabby Douglas hair” is troubling to me. I get that you want someone who is ostensibly representing Black folks to have a better ‘do, but it was clear that (1) All of the teammates had the same hairdo….one that just happened to be disadvantageous to young Gabby and (2) She was already never referred to as “beautiful” or “pretty” in the same way as the other teammates. It’s pretty hard to fight for folks to view us in the same light as White girls when we kind of do the same thing. It wasn’t about her being “presentable” or not; in fact, she was just as made up and primped as the other girls on the team. She is a champion. She could have rocked the full Frederick Douglass fro and been the same. It was a shame that educated Black folks, who had a chance to make up for the lack of coverage of her, often chose to speak more about her hairdo and looks than the fact that she just performed an EPIC feat on the biggest stage possible at a very young age.
But if anyone celebrates you, Gabby, it’s 40 Acres and a Cubicle. This is the Official Website of Black Excellence, and what could be more excellent than what you’ve accomplished and what you have yet to accomplish? Let’s just hope that after the final medals are handed out, the rest of the country can see you for what you are. A champion of the highest order, and a paragon of excellence, especially Black Excellence, that can inspire people to be great worldwide. Gabby Douglas, the Golden Girl.