Former British Prime Minister during WW II, Winston Churchill, said, “To everyman there comes a time in his life when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and asked to do a great and mighty work; unique to him and fitted to his talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the moment that could be his finest hour.”
Well, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas was tapped on the shoulder and was asked to do a great and mighty work that was truly unique to her and fitted to her talents.
She became the first Black woman to win the gold medal in the individual all-around competition. This is on the heels of her being part of the gold medal winning team that won in the team all-around.
What a tragedy that Gabby’s moment found the media unprepared and unqualified for the moment that was her finest hour.
I couldn’t help but notice the media coverage of Gabby. It was though she was not part of the team that had just won the team all-around gold medal. Before her performance Tuesday night, the announcers constantly questioned whether she was mentally able to handle the pressures of the Olympics. They constantly harped on that issue. Obviously, if she made the team, she knows a little something about how to handle pressure.
What’s ironic is that Gabby was the only member of the American team to compete in all four events (beam, bars, vault, and floor). Math is not my strongest subject, but let’s do the numbers. Gabby participated in 100 percent of the events, was 1/5 of the team, and accounted for 1/3 of the team points from one analysis I saw; but yet got little of the media coverage. I will leave it to you to Google a team photo and determine what makes Gabby stand out from her teammates.
For her to account for 1/3 of the points is nothing short of miraculous. Remember, she participated in every event. That is an extreme load for anyone, let alone a young 16 year old woman who is 4’11 and 90 pounds. She deserves a gold medal just for carrying that type of burden on such a small frame.
But, the media has a long history of covering the accomplishments of certain people in a less than flattering way. For example, NFL quarterback Michael Vick, is frequently labeled as “athletic” while quarterback Peyton Manning is labeled as “intelligent.” Collin Powell is often described as being very “articulate;” whereas, Bill Clinton is described as a “great orator.”
The sad thing about this type of media coverage is that this is not something the media does consciously. I might feel a lot better if the media were doing this consciously. If you are knowingly doing something, at least you can make a decision to change your behavior. But the media is totally unaware of their bias. That’s the difference between bias and discrimination. Most biases are unconscious, whereas discrimination is conscious and intentional.
It will be interesting to monitor the number of endorsement opportunities Gabby will have presented to her. Most gold medal Olympians of color never get the business opportunities of similar Olympians from other backgrounds. This is just a fact of life.
I watched in total amazement at Gabby Douglas’ historic rise to Olympic gold. Gabby is 16 going on 40. She is wise well beyond her years. She has a smile that lights up the dark. The TV loves her smile and her humility is overwhelming. She has this effervescent glow about her and my prayer is that she develops into the lady that I know she is capable of being.
Gabby, you danced your way into our hearts during the floor exercise, while you floored us with your magnanimous smile. You showed poise and grace as you vaulted into the consciousness of the world. You showed your stamina on the balance beam. You were unparalleled on the uneven bars.
Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site, www.raynardjackson.com.