Gold Medal

America Should Salute, Not Berate, Gabby Douglas

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-Getty Images

Gabby Douglas became the face of U.S. gymnastics after capturing hearts across the world, and a couple of gold medals, during the 2012 London Olympics. Her status and fame made her seem a lot bigger than just her 5-foot-2 frame.

Fast forward four years later to this year’s games at Rio, where Douglas and her teammates struck gold yet again in team competition. However, this time around, Douglas has been shrunk down by the American public and placed under the microscope, with criticism and torment launched at her for every move she makes.

Douglas has been unfairly targeted and disparaged by some members of American society that deem her “unpatriotic.”

On August 9, the “Final Five”–the nickname given to the team of U.S. gymnasts composed of Douglas, Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez, and Madison Kocian–stood atop of the Olympic podium, as they listened to the Star-Spangled Banner play throughout the arena.

It was a beautiful moment for a team whose 8.2 point difference over second-place Russia, the largest margin of victory in 56 years, capped off a successful title defense.

However, some armchair and couch-sitting “Olympians,” watching from their households back in the United States, noticed something that made them furious. Something that enraged them enough to mock, berate, and bully Douglas on social media.

Four out of five members of the Final Five had their hands placed on their hearts as the national anthem played. The last person didn’t–that person being Douglas.

To them, the golden moment was tarnished, and it was only the beginning of the attacks towards Douglas.

Since then, she’s still receiving hate-filled, racially-charged insults for her behavior on the podium, comments on her hair, and being called selfish for not cheering on her teammates “hard enough.”

Douglas should not apologize to these critics, but she did–all before sobbing privately after the press conference.

She is the one donning the red, white, and blue. She trained to represent Team USA. Her gold medal performances in London seemed long forgotten. She helped her team win again for the United States.

Yet, she’s getting unfair criticism from those who are sitting at home. The ones who didn’t train at the highest level to represent their country at the world’s biggest stage. From people who didn’t sacrifice hours and years of their childhood to train in order to fulfill an Olympic-sized dream.

Douglas didn’t do anything disrespectful, she stood at attention. She hasn’t cheated, used performance-enhancing drugs, or sabotage her fellow competitors. She won gold for the United States fair and square.

Go to any major sporting event nowadays and you will see that a majority of people don’t put their hands over their hearts while the Star-Spangled Banner plays. Others don’t even remove their hats. Some are giving their orders at concession stands or walking to the bathroom.

Why is this a big deal?

In the 2012 London games, McKayla Maroney became famous for her unamused scowl, as she stood with her arms crossed on the podium. No one criticized her then. In fact, she became a viral internet meme, a hilarious joke that was celebrated.

Michael Phelps laughed during a medal ceremony last week while the national anthem played because of an inside joke between him and his friends. The joke involved the Baltimore tradition of screaming “O!” during the anthem. His hometown pride was appreciated. No one called him un-American for laughing.

The 1992 Dream Team–regarded by many as the best basketball team to ever grace the hardwood–only had a couple of its members salute the flag while standing on the podium. 11 of the 12 players on that team became legendary Hall of Famers.

Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and Michael Jordan–yes, his Airness–are among some of the Dream Teamers who did not salute the flag. They didn’t get criticism.

This is not a knock on any of the aforementioned athletes; they have achieved gold medals in the name of the United States. It’s more of a critique on how the American people received them in comparison to how some are treating Douglas.

She stood respectfully during the anthem. She did not gesture wildly, flip off audiences, or dance gleefully for winning a gold medal. She didn’t showboat, nor were there any displays of bad sportsmanship or treason.

Why should Douglas be held to an unfair double standard?

At 20 years old, she’s considered old in the sport of gymnastics but still very young in the game of life.

Maybe it’s her youth that make some people feel the need to give patriarchal or parental advice, with adults feeling the need to impose their wisdom on a younger Douglas. Based on looking at some of the tweets on social media, it’s clear that some of the vitriol is racially motivated.

Let’s face it, women are looked at much more closely in regards to their appearance, how they compose themselves, and how they act in comparison to men. They are judged a lot more for their behaviors. Throw race into the picture and the magnitude increases, especially given the racial tensions that are prominent in the news and today’s society.

Regardless of what the motive may be, whether it may be related to gender, racial, or just an overall disdain for Douglas, only one thing should matter in an American and Olympic context–the colors red, white, and blue.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. While some have voiced their support for Douglas, using the hashtag #LOVE4GABBYUSA or through other means over social media, the positive messages won’t stop the continued downpour of venomous messages from pundits.

The only unpatriotic act that has been committed in all of this mess are from those who wish to see her fail.

Shame on them.

Douglas continues to compete, despite the negativity. She could have withdrew from her events, give in, and make it about herself.

But she didn’t.

She isn’t the one being un-American. Those that go out of their way to wish for ill will on Douglas, who has won gold in the name of the stars and stripes, are the ones who disrespect the flag.

They owe an apology.

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One-and-Done: No Place for Cheaters in the Olympics

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-John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

Usain Bolt was at it again on Sunday night, harnessing his energy like electricity flowing through his body to fuel his machine-like pistons for legs. He spurred ahead of the pack to take home the gold medal in the 100m sprint for the third straight Olympics.

Amongst those that he outraced was the United States’ Justin Gatlin, a rival that has gotten close to catching the world’s fastest man throughout the last couple of years. Like all other races before, he was unable to do so, but did put up a valiant effort in challenging Bolt.

As exciting as it was to see Bolt and Gatlin square off at the sport’s highest level, the allure was tarnished by Gatlin’s past.

The 34-year old Brooklyn native had been previously banned twice from track and field for doping.

Frankly, Gatlin should not be able to take home the silver medal.

He shouldn’t have had the opportunity to compete in the Olympics to begin with.

The anti-doping conversation began earlier in the Olympics, when American Lilly King took down Russia’s Yulia Efimova in the swimming pool. King publicly disparaged Efimova after the semifinals and backed up her point by winning gold in the 100m breaststroke.

Efimova tested positive for DHEA, a performance enhancing drug, back in 2013. As a result, she served a 16-month suspension that was lifted in early 2015. Back in March 2016, she tested positive for meldonium, the same PED found in tennis star Maria Sharapova (currently serving a two-year ban).

Efimova was banned from swimming once again, but it was put on hold while the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) further investigates. She was quietly reinstated into the Olympics, but the boos that came her way for every race she competed in were far from reserved.

After defeating Efimova, King became a firm voice in the conversation regarding where athletes caught doping should stand in the Olympics. She believes that there is no room for them at all–a point that isn’t just for Efimova and Team Russia, as it is investigated for a state-wide doping scandal.

“Do I think people who have been caught doping should be on the team? They shouldn’t,” King said, when asked about if U.S. athletes who had been caught doping in the past. “It is unfortunate we have to see that.”

Unlike the overwhelmingly villainous role that Efimova has been given, the reception for Gatlin has been mixed. Spectators were quick to shoot down Efimova, and deservingly so. Meanwhile, Gatlin has received both boos and cheers, with some coming to his defense.

It’s easy for the United States’ supporters to criticize those who don’t suit up for the stars and stripes, especially when it comes to Russia and the long-standing Olympic and historical rivalry between the two countries.

However, in this case, Americans should not support their own who cheat. Lilly King is correct, there is no place for cheaters–past or present–in the Olympics.

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-Vaughn Medley/Getty Images

While some pundits have criticized King for being a poor sport by being harsh towards Efimova, I applaud her for being able to voice her opinion and stand up for what is right–calling out cheaters. That is the opposite of being a bad sport. She won the gold medal fair and square.

This the highest level of athletic competition in the world, allowing those who have used PEDs to compete is placing a giant blemish on the integrity of the Olympics and the value of medals.

Like Efimova, Gatlin had been caught twice. He has spent a combined five years away from track and field. While he may adamantly proclaim his innocence and insist that he has served his time, he should not be able to compete in the Olympics.

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) needs to place a harsh no-strikes rule for all cheaters who have used PEDs. One-and-done.

I do not buy an athlete’s excuse in claiming he or she did not know a banned substance was entering their bodies. An athlete claiming naivety is simply reckless. One needs to be far from reckless when it comes to training and preparation. In order to be in tip-top shape, especially at the rigorous level of the Olympics, you have to closely monitor what is going into your body. Aside from the athletes themselves, they have coaches and trainers who are also monitoring their activity. Someone has to know.

A one-and-done rule will bring athletes, coaches, and trainers to look even closer to see what substances are present in a supplement or diet. There should be no excuses to test positive for PEDs that bring a competitive edge.

Should an athlete appeal his or her ban, a further investigation should uncover the truth. If there is a mistake, he or she will be reinstated. A harsh, one chance policy will minimize on doping–especially when a life-long ban from the Olympics is at stake for those who cheat.

The IOC cannot be soft when it comes to dealing with PED users. We’ve already seen what happens when a league’s administration chooses to look the other way or fail to address its doping problem with Major League Baseball.

The MLB chose to look the other way when it came to steroids, as the sport needed to recover from low ratings around the time of the strike in 1994. There’s no coincidence that it was lax in testing its players–as the league saw excitement once again, with home runs flowing in the late 90s, and fans got to see the compelling home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

It wasn’t until the 2000s that baseball began to really crack down on steroid users, and it wasn’t just limited to star players.

The Mitchell Report in 2007 unveiled approximately 90 MLB players allegedly linked to steroids or other PEDs. The use of PEDs is an epidemic that the MLB is still trying to weed out and overcome today.

The Olympics doesn’t need to succumb to the same fate. The IOC needs to place a high standard for its athletes now. After all, this is a competition for the top athletes in the world–encompassing way less than one-percent of the human population. Allowing past or present PED users contaminates the field and harms the credibility of the competition.

There should be no sympathy for athletes who are known cheaters and PED users. They stole a spot on Olympic rosters from others who attempted to qualify cleanly, and some have even snatched a medal away from other competitors.

Gatlin, Efimova, and all others who tested positive for PEDs deserve their boos and criticism. It’s time for the IOC to set that clear, high standard moving forward so that there is no controversy and no questions to be asked.

PED users should not be allowed in the Olympic games and those caught with PEDs after the fact should have their results vacated and their medals stripped away.

Because, let’s face it–there is something off when an athlete with a tainted past represents a country or finishes ahead of the one who did things honestly and fairly.