Last week, Gabby Douglas’s interview with Oprah aired and the world found out how cruel other gymnasts were to the young black girl. Just one day after the leaders of the Excalibur gym disputed her claims of racism and bullying, Vanity Fair has published a story revealing even more shocking details about Gabby’s training in Virginia.
The Vanity Fair interview which took place just six days after she won her all-around Olympic gold medal (read: before her Oprah interview), talks about her newfound fame, gives insight to her personality and talks about “interested parties bitterly vie for control” of her life. Including ”a gym so anxious to keep the 14-year-old child it had trained for six years that its ownership offered to cover mortgage payments and give her financially struggling mother a job so that the daughter would stay and the gym could benefit from her success.”
That gym, is of course, Excalibur. The gym were Gabby trained before she left her hometown of Virginia for a better coach. It was that gym where Gabby’s mother says she experienced bullying, prejudice and racism.
Natalie does not hold back on the subject of the racial slights she felt Gabby faced after she began formal training in Virginia Beach, at the age of six. Nor does she hold back about the parents of other gymnasts who, she felt, looked at her as a pariah, an alien, a single black bank employee making around $45,000 a year in the midst of affluent white families headed by doctors and lawyers.
Of course being looked at weird is not enough to leave a gym. Vanity Fair found that it was much more than that.
In 2009 [Gabby] broke a growth plate in her wrist. Injuries to gymnasts are commonplace, but Natalie says Gabby’s pediatrician told her the fracture was caused by “overtraining and overuse.” Dena Walker, the head coach at Excalibur and a financial partner in the gym, disputes that, and claims the onus for the injury was partly on Gabby because she waited roughly three weeks before she told anyone her wrist was bothering her. (“Not true,” says Gabby. “It was a week.”)
Much like the story she told Oprah, Gabby says she had incidents with other gymnasts too:
One day in 2010, in a rush to get to the gym, she left her clothing by her locker; when she returned, her shirt was missing. “You don’t actually take by mistake someone’s clothes,” Gabby tells me. And when it was apparent that she had no shirt to leave the locker room in, other gymnasts started laughing at her. Another day, a gymnast whose turn it was to scrape the uneven bars of excess chalk tried to duck the job. According to Gabby, the girl said, “Why doesn’t Gabby do it? She’s our slave.” The gymnast was laughing, but Gabby did not see the humor.
Though the staff has tried to distance themselves from any bickering or bullying that went on between the young gymnasts, Gabby reveals they were cruel to her as well.
Even more painful was an incident several years ago at a party where Gabby says an Excalibur staff member told her she might want to consider reconstructive surgery on her nose because of its flatness. Some other gymnasts had teased Gabby about her appearance, and she found the nose comment “very hurtful.”
While the shirt-taking may have been a common locker-room prank, the other incidents were obviously more troubling. Dena Walker says that coaches at the gym, which has been home to many African-American athletes, are on the lookout for racial animus and take action should something happen. Walker denies that anyone suggested Gabby get a nose job, calling the allegation “a joke,” and notes that Gabby never reported any of these incidents. According to Natalie, Gabby does have a tendency to keep things inside, and told her mother about these incidents only recently. “I was flabbergasted,” says Natalie.
They told her to get a nose job because of it’s flatness! It would have been great if Gabby would have pulled a Rihanna and said: ”Because I’m Black b**ch”. Seriously, with that sort of insensitivity and drama, it’s no wonder Gabby left when she did.
The important thing to note here is that her mother took her situation seriously. Sometimes parents can wave their child’s complaints off (much like Excalibur gym is doing) to their detriment. Natalie Hawkins didn’t ignore her daughter and instead allowed her to change gyms. Someone stealing your shirt is one thing, but an adult telling a 14-year-old she needs a nose job is something else entirely.
What do you think about this story?
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