Yesterday, Gabby Douglas competed in what was probably the last event of her Olympic career, the individual uneven bars final. Despite an error early in the routine that caused her to finish seventh out of eight competitors, Douglas finished with a smile. Her performance has been called shaky and disappointing, but when you consider the (largely unnecessary) backlash that Douglas has had to deal with online during these Rio Olympics, she's a true champion. First, she was called out on Twitter for not placing her hand over her heart during the national anthem during the American women's team gold.
Then, she was berated for not cheering in the stands during the all-around final.
And for those not commenting on her appearance during the anthem or supposed saltiness in the stands, there were people talking about her hair.
Those comments don't just sit ignored. After yesterday's final, reporters asked Douglas how all of the social media backlash has impacted her. Noticeably saddened, Douglas said that it was "hurtful" and that "it doesn't really feel good." Now, Twitter seems to have turned a corner. #LOVE4GABBYUSA is trending, with Leslie Jones and thousands of others voicing their support.
The support for Douglas is a must and will hopefully brighten her spirits, but it comes too late. Where was everyone before Douglas spoke to reporters? And why was there such a need to take the gold medalist down from her podium? During the London 2012 Olympics, it was Douglas who held the admiration and reverence that Simone Biles has now. She was America's sweetheart, appearing on her own cereal box and speaking with Oprah after she made history as the first African-American gymnast to win all-around Olympic gold. "How well can you cope with things like that when you go from people's adoration to being the brunt of all the criticism and the hatred?" Natalie Hawkins, Douglas' mom, said on CNN of her daughter's response to comments online. Douglas has said that she tried to avoid the internet during the Games, but given that she apologized for her supposed slight during the national anthem and talked about her love and support for her teammates, she clearly wasn't able to avoid hearing about it. "I've been through a lot," Douglas said yesterday, ESPN reported. "A lot. Sometimes I sit back and say, 'Wait. What did I do to disrespect people? What have I done to disrespect the U.S.A.?'" As viewers, it's not just our job to cheer on our Olympic champions during their wins. It's our job to be there for them throughout the Games, something that they have worked hard just to qualify for in the first place. There are a lot of reasons people feel the need to criticize a public figure online, whether it's simply an outlet for a bad mood, or a way to express our own insecurities. But in the case of international sporting events such as the Olympics, perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to judge. The criticism athletes such as Douglas have experienced is disturbing, often hateful, and something that we shouldn't stand for. Considering what a big role mental outlook and positivity plays in performance at the elite level, it's possible that our own tweets shook Douglas' foundation, playing a small role in her performance Sunday. For Douglas, the damage is done and no one can take back what she's read or heard. But we can — and must — stand by her and pledge to support our Olympians moving forward. That is our patriotic duty.