It took me a while to get my thoughts together on this particular topic. It’s one with a ton of levels, and one you can only scratch the surface of in a blog post.
In thinking about the criticism Gabby Douglas has been forced to endure this past week, I noticed something about “new media” coverage of women U.S. Olympic gymnasts. Since 2004, at least 1 member of every team has been unfairly criticized in the press for no good reason.
2004: Courtney Kupets got criticized for “putting her personal interests above the team” when she couldn’t compete her beam routine in team finals due to an injury that flared up, and competed in individual finals later that week. The outlet neglected to highlight the fact she competed on floor in the rotation following beam.
2008: Alicia Sacramone got blamed for being the main cause for not winning the team gold – a medal the U.S. likely wasn’t going to win without massive help from China. She recently did an interview saying people found her college email to continue harassing her months afterward.
2012: A number of outlets tried calling Jordyn Wieber’s Olympics a “failure” because she missed the all-around final, despite placing 4th in qualifications and being 2-per-countried out. Plus, there were the critiques of Gabby’s appearance.
(It should be noted, you could go further back. The 2000 team didn’t get much love in the press, and it’s well documented the struggle members of the 1992 team have endured to see their bronze as an accomplishment and not a “failure” as they were led to believe. Even for all the success of the 1996 team, I remember some unkind words after the all-around final sent towards the 3 gymnasts who competed.)
And for Rio, like clockwork, the trolls have been out for gymnasts from virtually every country. Expected, but disheartening and no less disappointing.
But for Gabby, the stones cast come from so many directions that it makes her case special.
Continue reading “Gymnastics and the Narrative of Criticism”