Tuesday, August 28
Gabby Douglas: "I was called a slave during training..."
On her way to London and triumph as the first African-American gymnast to win individual all-around Olympic gold, Gabby, 16, nearly gave up her dream because she was tormented at a gym where she trained in Virginia Beach, Va.
“I was just, you know, kind of getting racist jokes, kind of being isolated from the group. So it was definitely hard. I would come home at night and just cry my eyes out,” she told Oprah Winfrey in a segment on “Oprah’s Next Chapter.”
She recalled a specific example of racism. “One of my teammates was like, ‘Could you scrape the bar?’” she remembered. “And they were like, ‘Why doesn’t Gabby do it, she’s our slave?’”
“I was the only African-American at that gym,” Gabby went on. “I definitely felt isolated. Why am I deserving this? Is it because I’m black? — those thoughts were going through my mind.”
Gabby appeared on Oprah’s show Sunday with her mother, Natalie Hawkins, who recalled how her daughter told her about the cruel treatment on several occasions.
When Gabby was 14, her mother said, she reached her breaking point.
“She said, ‘I’d rather quit — if I can’t move and train and get another coach, I’d rather quit the sport,’” Hawkins said.
Gabby’s mother took that to heart and allowed her to move to Iowa to train with a new coach. And the rest, as they say, was Olympic history.
But even as Gabby also took home Olympic team gold as part of the USA’s “Fierce Five,” she was still made to feel different by Twitter chatter about her hair style — Internet talk begun by African-Americans.
“You know why it sickens me?” Winfrey told Gabby, referring to African-Americans in general.
“We’re the only ones who would care to notice, because the whole world is looking at your athletic prowess, and there are a few naysayers — haters — who are on talking about your hair.”