The 2016 Summer Olympics occurred in Rio de Janeiro from August 5-21, with nothing short of controversy. Three-time World Olympic Gold Medalist and American gymnast Gabby Douglas took to the stage on August 9th to receive her gold medal for Women’s artistic team all-around. As tradition, the national anthem of the winning Olympian’s home country is played as tribute to the Olympian’s nationality. Surrounded by her team, Douglas did not hold her right hand over her heart as the American national Anthem played during the U.S. gymnastic gold medal ceremony. This sparked much dismay on social media for an Olympian not following American tradition for saluting the flag. To put this issue in historical perspective, the United States Congress enacted a code of conduct in for playing the national anthem and how to act during its play. The conduct includes “during rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart” (36 U.S.C. §171, 1942). Additionally this flag code was enacted in response to no one wanting to look like Nazi supporters in 1942, as America before June 22, 1942 would do the same arm-raised salute (Blackmore, 2016).
In this paper, I attempt to uncover how Douglas, as an African-American woman, is portrayed in three online news media stories from FOX25 WFXT , The Washington Post and Reuters. I analyzed these three stories for mentions of gender, race and any connections between the two. The scope of this paper is to identify how diversity was portrayed across three news media outlets, and to offer any recommendations for improving conversations of race and gender in relation to an Olympian’s nationality in the international sphere. Upon review of these three sources, it is apparent that Douglas was portrayed in a more negative light than others have under the same circumstances.
In FOX 25 WFXT’s article, “Gabby Douglas apologizes over national anthem controversy,” Taylor simply addressed the negative feedback Douglas received on Twitter during the night of the event (Taylor, 2016). The article gave a fair comment to both sides on Twitter, and allowed Douglas to respond with her reaction to the negative coverage. In this particular article, there were no mentions of gender or race on the included Twitter multimedia, nor in the actual language of the article itself. Therefore, it appears Taylor’s article on Fox 25 WFXT has not portrayed Douglas’ diversity in a negative light.
While Taylor’s piece avoided the topic of diversity completely, The Washington Post’s Liz Clarke makes several mentions of gender and race in her piece, “Gabby Douglas, her Olympics over, tearfully responds to social media critics” (Clarke, 2016). In this opinion piece, Clarke offers up quotes from Douglas on the negative backlash on social media, and offers up some detailed facts about the nature of the gymnastic competition. Clarke makes several mentions of gender and how the physical maturation of female gymnasts is “brief” (Clarke, 2016). The language she employs on female athletes in gymnast competitions seems to celebrate Douglas on going above and beyond what is expected of “tiny sparrows of the sport” (Clarke, 2016). There is no mention of race in her article, which likely is due to it not being the central focus of Clarke’s position on the criticism Douglas received. Clarke’s piece highlighted some of the language used by media writers to describe the challenges female athletes face, however, race is more evident in other pieces addressing Douglas’ criticism.
In Reuter’s piece, “Gymnastics: Bullies are tormenting Douglas, says mother,” Sarkar makes both comments of gender and race in her story. Sarkar offers up a variety of quotes from Douglas’ mother, Natalie Hawkins (Sarkar, 2016). In one particular quote, Hawkins describes how Douglas has faced criticism of her hair, and faced accusations of skin bleaching and breast enhancements (Sarkar, 2016). This comment addresses some of the negative, race and gender charged comments Douglas has received since coming into the national spotlight in the 2012 London Olympics (Sarkar, 2016). Perhaps the most powerful part of Sarkar’s article is Hawkins addressing the question about if she thinks the comments are related to race when she stated “many people are telling me that all the time. And that’s from white people and black people” (Sarkar, 2016).
Based on an analysis of these three news media pieces, it is apparent that gender and race were certainly up for discussion in coverage of Douglas’ missing salute to the U.S. national anthem. Perhaps what is more shocking about this situation is how Douglas’ criticism was compared to that of American Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Lochte was caught abusing a gas station restroom, fighting a security officer, lying to national news sources and is accused of falsifying a police report at the Olympic games (Gray, 2016). In Huffington Post’s opinion piece, “White Male Privilege Is Why We Laugh At Lochte And Vilify Douglas,” Gray notes Douglas failed to put a hand on her heart during the national anthem and did not style herself to the audience’s liking and was criticized for being disrespectful and unpatriotic. However, Lochte is framed as “having one debaucherous night of fun” (Gray, 2016). As Gray also points out, “the vast gap between these two public perceptions has everything to do with the identities of the people involved. Lochte is a straight, white man, who has long been beloved for his pretty face, doofy personality and charmingly slow demeanor during interviews. Douglas is a young, black woman who has battled racialized critiques of her appearance and attitude for years, despite winning three Olympic gold medals” (Gray, 2016). Understanding this assertion of white privilege among Olympic athletes, the case for Douglas can be thought of as race and gender charged.
As media organizations go forward with coverage of Olympic athletes at future games, it is imperative for writers to consider the implications of interviewing sources for fair comment and fair representation in their stories. Likewise, journalists should partake in diversity workshops to improve their understanding of race and gender related issues that minorities face. In doing so, a more evaluative framework of current times may exist in coverage of situations that minorities face.
98.7 AMP. (2016, August 10). Gabby Douglas Responds to Criticism Over Olympic Medal Ceremony. 98.7 AMP. Image retrieved from http://987ampradio.cbslocal.com/2016/08/10/gabby-douglas-responds-to-criticism-over-olympic-medal-ceremony/
Blackmore, E. (2016, August 12). The Rules About How to Address the U.S. Flag Came About Because No One Wanted to Look Like a Nazi. Smithsonian. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/rules-about-how-to-address-us-flag-came-about-because-no-one-wanted-to-look-like-a-nazi-180960100/#vAGwkWlZRt8tKyYj.99
Clarke, L. (2016, August 15). Gabby Douglas, her Olympics over, tearfully responds to social media critics. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/gabby-douglas-her-olympics-over-tearfully-responds-to-social-media-critics/2016/08/14/512cfee8-6219-11e6-8b27-bb8ba39497a2_story.html
Frazão, F. (2016, August 8). Treino da equipe de ginástica artística norte-americana. Agência Brasil. Image Retrieved from http://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/rio-2016/foto/2016-08/treino-da-equipe-de-ginastica-estado-unidense
Gray, T. (2016, August 19). White Male Privilege Is Why We Laugh At Lochte And Vilify Douglas. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/ryan-lochte-gabby-douglas-and-white-male-privilege-in-action_us_57b5e76de4b034dc73262f93
Taylor, K. (2016, August 11). Gabby Douglas apologizes over national anthem controversy. FOX 25 WFXT. Retrieved from http://www.fox25boston.com/news/gabby-douglas-apologizes-over-national-anthem-controversy/421101575
Title 36 – PATRIOTIC SOCIETIES AND OBSERVANCES, CHAPTER 10 – PATRIOTIC CUSTOMS. 36th United States Congress. §171. (1942, June 22).
Sarkar, P. (2016, August 14). Gymnastics: Bullies are tormenting Douglas, says mother. Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-olympics-rio-agymnastics-douglas-bull-idUSKCN10P0M6