After facing a barrage of online criticism and harassment during the 2016 Olympic Games, gymnast Gabby Douglas is finally speaking out.
The three-time gold medalist, who was heavily criticized about her hair at the 2012 Beijing Olympics, faced similar condemnation this year along with accusations of a lack of patriotism and poor sportsmanship. For Douglas, the recrimination was hurtful.
“I had [to] take off social media before the Olympics,” Douglas told Teen Vouge on Facebook Live Wednesday, Dec. 21. “Then, after team finals in Rio, I Googled myself and there was just so much noise. First, it started with me not having my hand over my heart, then my hair, then me not being supportive. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I have no idea where this is coming from.’ It was hard.”
Then, Douglas stood at attention during the national anthem but didn’t place her hand over her heart like the rest of her Final Five teammates. In reaction, a Twitter user deemed Douglas a “sorry American.” Finally, when teammate Simone Biles won gold in the women’s individual all-around, Twitter took aim at Douglas for allegedly feeling salty over the triumph.
“Every single day, I’d come back to the village after every single training practice and I literally bawled my eyes out,” Douglas said. “I would cry and cry and cry because people were being so mean.”
The judgment visibly took a toll on the gymnast towards the end of the Olympics, when USA Today reported Douglas seemed to be holding back tears as she scrolled through her phone.
Douglas also addressed criticism about her serious demeanor during the 2016 Games, noting she had simply grown up since she last competed in the Olympics at age 16.
“Going from 2012, I was this smiley, bubbly Gabby,” she explained. “And in 2014 to 2016, I was like, ‘I’ll be a little more mature, a little more sass.’ And everyone was like, ‘What’s wrong with her? She’s not smiling, something’s wrong.’ And I’m like, ‘No, this is mature Gabby.’ I love to laugh, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t put me in a category, you know? Let me do what I need to do out on the floor.”
Douglas has advice for other people who have dealt with cyberbullying: Don’t change.
“There’s [sic] people out there that love you guys and your life is very important and very valuable,” she said. “Always be strong and you can overcome it, you really can.”