I don’t give a damn about The Olympics.
Now, before you get all huffy and ask why I’d even bother playing “internet troll” and writing about something I don’t care about, let me expound. I care greatly about The Olympics — the month-long series of competitions featuring the best athletes in the world.
What I don’t give a damn about is The Olympics — the ceremonies, the sentiment, the fawned over concept of fabricated sportsmanship, the perpetual human interest stories about orphaned lepers who hid in porcupine anuses to escape from Taliban prison camps so they could compete for a spot on Iraq’s equestrian team, and even the half-assed patriotism this cash cow is supposed to inspire.
Basically, I just want to see motherf*ckers compete. Forget all the Kumbaya shit. I want to see records and wills broken. I don’t even give a damn if American athletes win medals. I just want to see the best athletes in the world scorch the motherf*cking earth. If they happen to be American, great! Go U.S.A.!
Again, I realize that my opinion is an unpopular one. I also realize that if most people interested in the Olympics felt the way I do, there probably would be no Olympics. The popularity of events like the Olympics and the Super Bowl thrive on casual fans — people interested in competition, but not dependent on it in the same way. For an event like this to continue it has to be financially lucrative, And, for it to be financially lucrative, it has to connect with people other than competition junkies. Basically, the human interest stories I find to be boring and repetitive exist because the people interested in them pay the bulk of the bill that finances everything.
I’m bringing this up because it provides a bit of context for my feelings about Gabby Douglas, an athlete who made headlines for medaling, made more headlines because of some criticism about her look, and stayed in the headlines because of the discussions the criticism about her look sparked.
Now, although I am a self-proclaimed Olympic atheist, I did feel extra elated when Gabby medaled. I’ve even starting calling her “Hush Puppy,” and there’s a rumor floating around that I might have even shed a tear when she won. I also do recognize the transformative potential of said medaling. The term “role model” was practically invented for people like her and the effect their mere presence can have on others. It wouldn’t even be hyperbole to suggest that just by winning while being a little Black girl not too much unlike millions of other little Black girls, Gabby Douglas literally saved lives.
But, despite Gabby’s aforementioned success and appeal, I don’t think the discussion about her hair is inherently wrong. It’s unfortunate, disturbing, ugly, insulting, and sad. But, it’s not wrong. In fact, it’s almost necessary
For an athlete to be popular enough to command an eight figure endorsement deal — a status Gabby Douglas is soon to reach (if she hasn’t reached it already) — a multitude of factors have to be in place, and the most important of these factors is for people who don’t give a damn about her sport to know who she is. Basically, for her to go fromÂ Gabrielle Christina Victoria Douglas to GABBY DOUGLAS!!! she needs for tens of millions of people to be interested in her. And, these millions will inevitably include the type of people who think it’s cool to talk about a 16 year old athlete’s hair. You cannot filter them out. If the only people who watched were the ones just interested in how she fared on the balance beams, she wouldn’t be a trending topic, an instant millionaire, and the cover of the new Corn Flakes box. You just cannot have one without the other.
Also, high-level athletes receiving this type of attention is nothing new. Last spring, there were no bigger punchlines than Lebron’s receding hairline and the occasionally effeminate mannerisms of his teammate, the most “giffable” man on Earth. Anthony Davis, an 19 year old, is just as well known for his unibrow as he is for being the number one pick in the NBA draft. And, I bet if we searched Twitter long enough, we could find hundreds of thousands of tweets discussing everything from the “Yeah, I haven’t showered since March” esque-ness of the Argentinian men’s basketball team to the packages (or lack thereof) of numerous track athletes.
Yes, Gabby is a teenager and these are (mostly) grown men. And yes, Gabby is a young woman, and appearance-based criticisms tend to be more damaging to women, young women especially, than they are to men. But, are we sure we want to share that message? Do we want to promote this Olympic ideal that female athletes can be just as determined and competitive and athletic and intense and spectacular and brilliant as male athletes (which I believe, btw), but then undermine that statement by also saying that we can’t pick apart and criticize them the same way we criticize the men?
You know, with all this being said, I do actually wish that none of this happened. I hoped that the Olympic bubble would protect Gabby and her family from the hair-related comments. Unfortunately, they didn’t, and her mother even thinks they may have affected her recent performance.
But, although I’m sure this may not be a popular opinion in the Douglas household right now, the next time they sit down to breakfast in their new million-dollar house and eat a bowl of Gabby Douglas-sponsored Corn Flakes, they should probably say a prayer thanking the hair haters, for none of that would have been possible without them.
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)