Appearing on Oprah’s Next Chapter over the weekend, Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas revealed news that was either incredibly surprising, or not a shock at all: She told Oprah that she felt bullied by her fellow gymnasts at Excalibur‘s gym in Virginia, where she trained before moving to Iowa for the two years’ training that would actually take her to the Olympics. At around the 4:20 mark in this video, Gabby explains, “I definitely felt isolated. I felt, ‘Why am I deserving this? Is it because I’m black?’” She also described one incident where her teammates joked that she should scrape chalk off the bars. According to Gabby, the other girls said, “Why doesn’t Gabby do it? She’s our slave.” She says she was afraid to show her potential.
But now, Excalibur trainers and parents are speaking out via the gym’s Facebook page, accusing Gabby of lying about all of this. Defenders of the gym think it’s odd that Gabby would bring all this up now when her original reason for leaving the gym was allegedly to work with a different coach. In short, they think that Gabby is using her fame to pursue some petty vendetta. Randy Stageburg wrote a detailed response, but this excerpt about sums up her side of the story:
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. Also, not only does she owe the gym thousands of dollars but she owes dena thousands as well. I watched dena open her home to gabby, feeding her, taking her to gym, and allowing her to stay over her house whenever gabby wanted to. You take people like dena and Gustavo, people that are selfless and put so much into helping these gymnasts reach their potential and you make them out to be evil and heartless.
But what would it benefit Gabby to make up all the bullying? It’s not as if she needs to get America on her side; we fell in love with her the first time we saw her smile! And of course she wouldn’t feel that it was appropriate or something she could change if she confronted the bullying years ago, when she was just another rising gymnast. Perhaps she feels that, as an Olympic champion, she could actually impact the conversation about bullying.
At the same time, if this were true, only so much of it would be Excalibur’s fault. It could be that the girls Gabby was training with were simply little shits who knew they could get away with racist jokes. If she didn’t say anything and no trainers noticed the girls making offhand comments, then it doesn’t reflect on the gym as a whole. Adolescent girls are awful. We know this. However, what I do take exception with regarding Excalibur is that they go after Gabby for “waiting until now” to dredge all this up… and then they do the exact thing, accusing her of not paying her old coaches thousands of dollars. Obviously she’s good for the money now, but to attack her in the public space over that issue is worse than her bullying accusation.
Seriously, though, Gabby — or Gabrielle, as she seems to want to be called now — can do this:
She doesn’t need anything else.