Patriotism? Sexism? Racism?

Gabby Douglas has been denounced by countless news sources and all over social media for not placing her hand on her heart during the playing of the United States national anthem after her gymnastics team won a gold medal for their country. People claim that Douglas was not being patriotic enough, but slammed her past a reasonable point for a simple lack of patriotism.

Another Olympic athlete, Ryan Lochte, lied about a false gas station robbery at gunpoint during the 2016 Rio Olympics. When confronted in an interview after, the American swimmer claimed that his “mistake was over-exaggerating,” rather than simply admitting that he had lied. Police claimed that Lochte’s entire story was falsified; after defacing the gas station washroom, security guards confronted the swimmer and the other Olympians he was with. Countless people have brushed this off as a simple drunken mistake that has been blown out of proportion.

Gabby Douglas is a three-time gold medalist at only 20 years old, and Ryan Lochte is a twelve-time Olympic medalist. Both compete for team America and both are phenomenal athletes, but the response each of them received was completely opposite.

Is the criticism Gabby Douglas has been facing really an issue of not being patriotic enough? Or is it something else entirely?

What lies at the heart of the issue are racism and sexism. Imagine if the roles of Gabby Douglas and Ryan Lochte were reversed. Would the reaction to Ryan Lochte not placing his hand in a patriotic manner have had such an overwhelming response? What kind of reaction would we see if Gabby Douglas were to falsely accuse a man of crime? Lochte’s actions would likely be brushed away, while Douglas would have faced substantial consequences and would never have heard the end of it.

Similarly, Michael Phelps, accomplished gold-medal winning American swimmer, laughed during the medal ceremony after winning the 200 metre butterfly. Much of the criticism he faced was written off as him simply being emotional – a reaction intrinsic to winning a medal. This reaction was far more tame than the reaction to Douglas’ supposed lack of patriotism. How is that fair?

Should Phelps have been criticized for his laughter? Personally, I don’t think so. But Gabby Douglas should not be denounced for her actions either.

What is also notable is the fact that American shot putters Ryan Crouser, Joe Kovacs, and pole vualter Sam Kendricks received very little criticism for not placing their hands to their hearts during their medal ceremonies only days after Gabby Douglas did the same. Their patriotism was not questioned, nor were they continually slammed on social media.

I think we should ask ourselves why their actions on the podium so heavily weighted anyway. They weren’t being vulgar, or openly offensive. They were being human. Gabby Douglas stood in her country colours after winning medals for the United States and the thanks and respect she is rewarded with is sickening. Being from a military family, Douglas stood to attention like is standard for service members. Doesn’t it seem ironic to tell her she is not being patriotic when many Americans believe fighting for your country is one of the most patriotic things you can do?

People must consider the rhetoric they are contributing to when they talk about Gabby Douglas as if she had committed a terrible crime, while forgiving people like Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps without a second thought. Racism and sexism are issues that cannot be solved overnight, but it becomes clear how far we are from eradicating them in moments like this.