Twitter's Response to Gabby Douglas Reveals a Problem in Women's Sports

August 14th 2016

Aron Macarow

Twitter has been delivering some harsh criticism to U.S. gymnastics squad member and gold medalist Gabby Douglas during the 2016 Rio Games: Tweeters have attacked her hairstyle and her smile, criticized her for not being a team player, and alleged that she bleaches her skin. The 2016 Summer Games haven't been easy on the two-time Olympian.

Douglas' mother has another word for the attacks: bullying.

"We've been brought to many tears, because I don't know what she's done to warrant such an attack," Natalie Hawkins said. "To me it looks like she is being bullied."

It's not hard to find examples of what Hawkins is referring to: Just search #CrabbyGabby, which recently trended on Twitter.

Unfortunately, Douglas is no stranger to these kind of taunts. Twitter previously attacked Douglas for her hairstyle following her gold medal win in the 2012 London Olympics, Hawkins said. The gymnast received similar criticism again this year:

Douglas is not the only Olympian to be targeted, and her treatment spotlights a unique challenge facing female athletes: sexism.

Sadly, it doesn't take long to find examples of the sexism that female athletes face.

  • Mexican gymnast Alexa Moreno was body shamed on Twitter during the Rio Games for having a figure that detractors deemed too masculine.
  • NBC sports commentator Dan Hicks credited Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú's gold medal performance in the 400-meter individual relay to her husband.
  • And Fox News spent an entire segment earlier this month discussing whether Olympic athletes should wear makeup.

Holly Holm, a decorated UFC fighter, said that female athletes become targets because they don't fit the stereotype of a passive, beauty-focused woman. She advised female athletes to "be confident in who you are, because ... you're in control of your own happiness."

WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne said that the problem goes beyond sports. "[Sexism] is in the workforce, as well." she said. "There isn't even equal pay. So it's not just in sports: It's everywhere."

The women's basketball star is hopeful that things will change. "Women out there need to keep pushing, and don't let it deter you," she said. "Because we need all strong women to come out and speak about it. Equality's coming. We just have to talk about it."

RELATED: Twitter Reacts to NBC's Coverage of Katinka Hosszú's World-Record Swim