At the start of the Rio games, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas was in an odd spot. Four years earlier, she had grabbed gold after gold in London which led to her becoming a media darling with her own leotard line and reality TV show. But when she made the decision to go again, she never anticipated being the third man out in nearly every event. First time phenom Simone Biles became the unexpected headliner, while London teammate Aly Raisman became the number two. That left Gabby out of the all-around finals and with little else to do for most of the games but sit and watch.
She wasn’t sitting alone; she had two young teammates at her side. Two first-time, very excited teammates who were happy and animated on camera. Two perky teammates who were generous with the hugs, applause and cheers. Suddenly, the whole world saw Gabby Douglas as the jealous, ungrateful teammate with the bad attitude. Even worse, she was unpatriotic; something you simply can’t be at the Olympic games.
Social media and traditional media landed blow after blow until she had no choice but to publicly apologize and later defend her actions.
What did Gabby do that was so bad? She didn’t put her hand over her heart when the National Anthem was played during a medal ceremony. She didn’t stand up and applaud when her teammate won a medal. Mostly, she didn’t smile or cheer while on camera.
In the real world, we might think that the poor girl was under a lot of stress, trying to do her very best for team and country on the world’s biggest stage. We might think that, being older and more experienced, she wasn’t as enamored with the spectacle as her younger co-horts. We could think that she’s a shy person who prefers to offer her hugs in private, not with the entire world watching.
We could. . . but we didn’t because how we perceive things is often a bigger key to reputation than how things really are.
In the space of two days, Gabby Douglas went from admired and respected to disparaged and despised, all because we thought we knew what was going on. Then social media got in on the act and the perception became reality because 100 million people can’t be wrong.
Let’s look at this another way. If you had spent your entire life training for a life-changing experience, wouldn’t you be upset if things didn’t go your way? Your fault, your teammates fault, the fault of the rules – wouldn’t you feel awful watching others walk away with the prize? Of course you would! That doesn’t make you a bad person. I wonder if the public reaction would have been different if gymnasts from other countries had pushed Gabby out of the medal race instead of her own teammates. Would it be okay to frown and stay seated when China takes the gold?
The lesson here is that you can spend years developing a great reputation only to lose it all on a badly timed frown, laugh or discouraging word. Once that happens, it’s up to you to face the world and say loud and clear, “you’re wrong” and nothing more.
As Gabby Douglas put it, “I still love the people who love me. Still love them who hate me. I’m just going to stand on that.”
[Andy’s Take: This too shall pass. We live in an age where the social media lynch mob is anxious to find the next act to be offended by. The key here for Gabby is that her intentions are not clear cut. Maybe she’s more reserved than her teammates, maybe she hasn’t been taught to place her hand over her heart when the National Anthem is played. Her faux pas is just that, a misstep, not a disqualification. Heck, even our own POTUS has made the same blunder: http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/anthem.asp and let’s not forgot the much bigger scandal that Michael Phelps recovered from: https://nypost.com/2016/08/12/michael-phelps-a-troubled-star-turned-olympic-legend/]