Gabby Douglas won my heart — and I’m sure others — during the Olympic Games this summer. Her ever positive attitude and clear dedication to the sport is evident with her team gold medal and All-Around gold medal. She quite admirable. Yet, she was bullied by other gymnasts.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Gabby and her mother shared how she wanted to quit the sport if she couldn’t change coaches or gyms. The sentiments expressed suggest that Gabby felt bullied because she was different.
“I felt being bullied…isolated from the group and…just…they treated me…not how they would treat their other teammates.”
Racial and ethnic diversity is lacking in many US Olympic sports teams and it is quite unfortunate that it is so. I would go further to suggest that the combination of her racial differences and her exceptional talent made her an unfortunate target.
For many young people (and adults) managing envy is difficult. I can only speculate that other gymnasts channeled their envy towards Gabby via bullying.
The link between bullying and envy became more apparent to me after watching “Mean Girls” this weekend. I caught the film just as it started and while extremely entertaining, the power dynamics depicted in the film between Regina George (the main mean girl) and Cady Heron (the new girl in school, turned mean girl, turned nice girl again) center on feeling threatened, envious and jealous. These feeling are normal, yet how we teach — or perhaps neglect how to teach — our young women to manage them is paramount if we want to see an end to bullying behavior. Competition is healthy; it can push us to be better. It can also be so difficult to manage the feelings related to it that it can drive us to say and do things that we could regret.
Kudos to Gabby for persevering and talking about her experiences! She gives other young people who are targeted the courage to “come out,” and get the help they need.
Olympic medal photo available from Shutterstock