Of all the things an athlete prepares for and thinks about ahead of a competition, the one thing they probably aren’t giving that much thought about is hair. And why should you? You’re about to put on a pretty important performance you’ve been training long and hard for, and as long as your body is ready, who cares about your hair?
Well, a lot of people cared about 28-year-old Nigerian Olympic track and field athlete Blessing Okagbare’s. While participating in the long jump during an event in Norway late last week, her leap caused her long black wig to fall off in the sand, exposing a low, natural cut. The commentators during the event joked about the incident, going as far as to measure how far her hair flew, along with where her feet landed in the sand.
But Okagbare carried on, seemingly unbothered. She put on her wig cap and prepared to put back on her wig as she waited patiently for her score. No running off in embarrassment. No need to try and make a joke of herself by shrugging and laughing. She knew there was a chance it would happen, as Okagbare told reporters following the jump, and it did. But she was focused on business. In the end, Okagbare placed seventh, but still managed to get a lot of attention from journalists who interviewed her after the event because of her wig snafu.
She also got a lot of attention from people on social media. Some simply laughed at the situation, while a few defended Okagbare and others criticized her for wearing a wig in the first place. It went on and on over the weekend, with Okagbare trying to make light of the situation on Instagram, saying, “When you talk about something for so long and it eventually happened … Oh well, it is what it is then … heads up…” before changing her mind and deleting her comment.
As for my own thoughts, I couldn’t be mad at the fact that the video was getting around. It is comical in a way. But more than anything, I just felt bad. Not because Okagbare may have been embarrassed or because people were talking about her, but rather, because, per the usual, people were talking about yet another Black female athlete’s hair. You just can’t win.
For the record, she is an Olympic silver-winning medalist who has also won gold and bronze in everything from the World Championships to the Commonwealth Games and the All-Africa Games in both the long jump and sprinting. In just about every race, she’s worn a wig or weave of some sort. I’ve seen her in red ones, black ones, purple ones, blond ones, short ones, long ones — looks that have run the whole gamut. It just seems to be her style. They’ve never held her back and they’ve never garnered much discussion, not when so many other successful track and field athletes, including Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and retired American sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross, hit the track in bold hairstyles. But it’s sad to see that when I type in Okagbare’s name now, there isn’t much mention of what she’s accomplished in her more than 10 years of competing or any other real interviews with her, but instead, she’s just referenced as the “long jumper” whose “WIG falls off” and “suffers embarrassment as wig falls off.”
Somehow it’s always about our hair. In both of the Olympics Gabby Douglas took part in, she was criticized on social media over her gel-adorned ponytails, even when she was making history.
A lot of talk surrounding Simone Manuel’s win in the 100-meter freestyle in Rio last year had to do with hair, how she cares for it and why it keeps so many of us from swimming.
Sanya Richards-Ross was criticized during the 2012 Olympic games in London for wearing a weave and for wearing it down while running and winning gold in the 4×400 relay.
And as Fashionista pointed out, Venus and Serena Williams have also attracted criticism about their choice of hairstyles while competing, as have track star Carmelita Jeter, fencer Maya Lawrence and many others.
It just feels like there are too many concerns when it comes to what is going on with our heads and not when it comes to what we’re doing on the field or court. If we have a fro, people say it’s too much and should be cut. If we wear a wig, people say it’s too much and sends the wrong message to young women. If we do all of that while accomplishing our goals, people still say it’s too much, and unfortunately, a lot of the time it’s our own people.
So while it wasn’t a big deal to chuckle over the uncommon occurrence of a woman losing her wig while doing the long jump (we’re all human), that should have been it. The need to try and take things a step further, making her, as we have so many Black female athletes at the top of their game, the butt of a long, dragged out joke, just reeks of an attempt to cut them down from the pedestal they’ve worked hard to get on. And honestly, that’s just not and never will be funny.