Gabby Douglas and the national anthem

Everyone following the Olympic games in Rio has been both excited and delighted by the success of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, known as “the final five.” Well done, ladies. Of course, it seems that nothing good happens these days without at least a smidgen of controversy and this week was no exception. The crew won gold in the group event, but when they went to receive their medals and the national anthem played, four of the Olympians beamed with pride, holding their hands over their hearts. The fifth member, Gabby Douglas, did not follow suit.

A picture is worth a thousand words, I suppose.


The LA Times described it as follows:

During the medal ceremony for her gold-winning USA gymnastics team on Tuesday at the Rio Olympic Arena, Douglas failed to show what many considered appropriate reverence. As her four teammates stood at full attention with their hands over their hearts, Douglas was slumped with her hands held casually in front of her as if she had just finished last.

Even during moments when she showed a smile, her body language was disconnected. The difference in aura with the other American gymnasts was palpable.

I’ve seen the pictures and watched the video a few times now and I have to say that the description above and the blowback Douglas received may be understandable, but it seems a bit harsh. Yes, I was put off by it at first given the international spotlight which follows the athletes who represent our nation, but this seems to be a case where intent plays a large role. Was it a protest as some assumed? I heard suggestions that her failure to properly address the flag was some sort of tribute to Michael Brown, Black Lives Matter or who knows what else. But if that were the case, wouldn’t she have made the most of her moment on the world stage to make a big political statement?

Instead, she issued what was at least an explanation if not a full blown apology. (USA Today)

First I want to say thank you everyone for all your support! It’s a huge honor for me to be able to represent #TeamUSA. In response to a few tweets I saw tonight, I always stand at attention out of respect for our country whenever the national anthem is played. I never meant any disrespect and apologize if I offended anyone. I’m so overwhelmed at what our team accomplished today and overjoyed that we were able to bring home another gold for our country!

For those who are doubtful of the explanation, let me just say that I get it. Not only is this a standard practice at the games, but Gabby was accepting as part of a team event. She should obviously have been able to see the young ladies in front of her paying their respects and realized that it was time to put her hand over her heart. But at the same time, I sympathize with her description of her feelings in the moment. It no doubt was “overwhelming” for her. What a moment to find yourself in! She stood at attention and has gone public saying that she meant no disrespect. And it’s not as if this was some overt political statement at an inappropriate time like the infamous black power salute during the 1968 games.

We should probably just take Ms. Douglas at her word and move on. We’re still bringing home the gold and there’s no reason to spoil the games when America is on a roll.

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