I Believe Gabby Douglas’s Bullying Claims No Matter What Her Former Gym Member Says
2:00 pm, August 28th | by Laura Donovan
Gold medalist Gabby Douglas may seem like she’s on top of the world now, but it wasn’t always that way. The teenager recently told Oprah Winfrey that she experienced racially-charged bullying at Virginia Beach’s Excalibur Gymnastics. Most people have been harassed at some point, especially if they stand out from the crowd (been there), so I never doubted she put up with a lot of nonsense from teammates. But a former gym member is arguing that the 16-year-old could be exaggerating what happened to her, leading me to believe that she was merely oblivious to the Olympic star’s taunting.
Douglas said this week that she was mistreated during her training days at Excalibur, once being called a “slave” by someone in the group:
“I would come home at night and just cry my eyes out … I was the only African-American at that gym. I definitely felt isolated. Why am I deserving this? Is it because I’m black? — those thoughts were going through my mind.”
This unfortunately doesn’t surprise me, as Douglas is young and school-aged folks can be rotten, exclusive, and incredibly mean, especially toward those who are a little bit different from everyone else. This kind of thing is also common in sports — I endured the same type of cattiness in fifth grade soccer, and the widespread viciousness is enough to bring a vulnerable child down. Almost as soon as Douglas talked about switching gyms as a result of teasing, however, a former gym member blasted the claims:
“This is absolutely ridiculous. I trained at Excalibur gymnastics for 8 years and I personally trained with gabby for 2 of those years. The accusations that are being made against the gymnasts and coaches are just sickening. I watched dena and Gustavo put so much of their time and effort into gabby and the other athletes, no matter their race. Gabby was never a victim, in fact many would say she was one of the favorites. I am not saying that she never felt bullied because when you are in a sport with a bunch of girls it is bond to happen. However, anything that she may have felt was never about race and I can assure you everyone at some point has felt bullied. I never once heard her complain about girls being mean, funny how it is just now coming up.”
Excalibur Gymnastic’s CEO is also irked about Douglas’s remarks, posing the question, “Is Gabrielle a credible person just because she is an Olympic Champion? She is not giving any names or dates, leading us to believe that the accusation is fake.” Really? Just because she may not have sought the help of adults doesn’t mean she wasn’t targeted at the gym. Perhaps she didn’t think they’d make a difference anyway. It wouldn’t be the first time grown-ups failed to stop kids from tormenting their peers.
Here’s the thing about bullying: sometimes people don’t remember that they once picked on others. They could believe they were nice to everybody while they actually made plenty of lives a living hell. I can recall almost every single individual who tried to tear me down in junior high and high school — from what each person said to the pitch of their laughter after hearing a cruel joke about me — but that doesn’t mean they remember all that they did in youth. Bullies often underestimate how much of an impact they have on their victims, and bystanders, who also reportedly underestimate the seriousness of bullying, have no reason to keep every childhood memory filed in the front of their brains.
Besides, Douglas may very well have kept her mouth shut to mask her pain. I did it all the time as a youngun’, often feigning apathy when fellow soccer players said I had hideous hair or spread false rumors that I was poor. I pretended not to care but the swipes stung nonetheless, and obviously I haven’t forgotten about the absurd things a pack of 10-year-olds once said to me. We’re told to ignore bullies so they don’t see they have any power over us, and I trust that Douglas was attempting to veil her struggles while all this was going on. Just because two people cannot attest to Douglas’s harassment doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I take Douglas’s word over that of a potentially bitter former team member and business manager wanting to maintain a positive image.