Gabby Douglas did nothing wrong; bullies, back off

For the last couple of weeks, people all across the globe have been glued to their televisions watching the greatest athletes in the world vie for the ultimate award in their sport – the Olympic gold medal.

America has a love affair with our Olympic athletes. Tommy Moe won a gold and a silver medal in the 1994 Lillehammer Olympic Games and became an instant hero in Alaska. That winter in 1994, anybody that had a sign with a message board was congratulating Moe, a street in Wasilla was named after him and he was inducted into the Alaska Hall of Fame.

Rosey Fletcher, Hilary Lindh, Kikkan Randall, Corey Cogdell, Callan Chythlook-Sifsof and Kris Thorsness have all received similar fanfare during their respective Olympic performances.

With all of this attention comes criticism from the masses that are watching these athletes so closely. Gabby Douglas, an American gymnast who has won nine Olympic medals, eight gold and one silver, has recently learned this firsthand.

[ICYMI: U.S. gymnastics team blows away opposition to win gold.]

During the medal ceremony after winning gold as part of the American gymnastics team last week, Douglas stood without holding her hand over her heart during the playing of the American national anthem.

The incident broke on the internet. Social media exploded with criticism of Douglas, many sources saying she lacked "honor," which should have been imparted to her by her parents.


She lacks honor? Really?

First of all, the concept that she lacks honor because she didn't put her hand over her heart is just nonsense. Second, the honorable thing isn't generally the thing everybody says you have to do. If honor is found in covering your heart with your hand, then honor is too easily gained to mean anything.

She has dedicated most of her childhood years to becoming the best in the world at her craft, and she's achieved it at a young age. There's far more honor in that than in where your hand is when you're standing quietly and respectfully during the national anthem after winning gold for your nation.

[2012: Gabby Douglas talks racism: Olympian tells Oprah Winfrey she was called 'slave']

These are the final Olympic games in Douglas' career. She told ESPN in an interview, "I tried to stay off the internet because there's just so much negativity." She said she was sorry if she had offended anybody and continued: "I've always said it was an honor to represent the U.S. You always do this for your country, and then, like people say, for yourself and other people."

Douglas' not putting her hand over her heart was not done on purpose. It wasn't part of a protest, a political statement or anything of the sort. She has said that she was simply "overwhelmed." She had just won her ninth Olympic medal, her eighth gold medal. Personally, I cannot imagine the emotions that must run through a person when they win a gold medal and are standing in front of the world with their anthem being played in the background, but I imagine that I would be a bit overwhelmed as well.

Criticisms often surround the national anthem; it's a subject that Americans hold close to their heart, and rightfully so. Artists who sing the anthem differently than we are used to or who "personalize" it with their unique vocal styling are often similarly condemned on social media and by fans in the stadium.

Athletes during the World Series and Super Bowl who are being broadcast to millions during "The Star-Spangled Banner" also often see similar disparagement for talking during the anthem, failing to sing along, seeming uninterested and many other reasons.

The love we have for our athletes combined with the respect and reverence in which we hold our nation's anthem create the perfect storm for these critical comments. However, couch commandos and decorum experts should consider their own actions and how their comments might affect the athletes.

Gabby Douglas had no agenda in not holding her hand over her heart during the national anthem and that shouldn't matter. She spends the better part of her life training to compete on behalf of our nation and she has reached the pinnacle of her sport. She should be celebrated, not lambasted. She has set a standard for other gymnasts who will  daydream of stepping on that Olympic podium. We should celebrate her and strive to be more like her.

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late 1990s. Email, michaeldingman@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Mike Dingman

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s.