Recently, Gabrielle "Gabby" Douglas became the first African-American female to win the Olympic gold medal in the women's individual all-around gymnastics competition. Although Douglas should certainly be praised and celebrated for such a wonderful accomplishment, there is one thing that concerns me.
Three co-workers of mine, who also are black, questioned why Douglas would want to participate as the only black member of a women's gymnastic squad competing in a "white" sport. When did gymnastics become a "white" sport? My co-workers obviously do not remember Dominique Dawes, who was a member of the gold medal-winning 1996 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team or Debi Thomas, who won a bronze as a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team. Vonetta Flowers won a gold medal as a member of the 2002 U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team.
As a black male who grew up playing soccer in a small Southern city, I received my fair share of negative comments for participating in a "white" sport, although the list of black soccer players is a long one, spanning from Cobi Jones and Brianna Scurry years ago, to Jozy Altidore and Oguchi Onyewu today. I even remember hearing negative comments about Venus Williams competing in a "white" sport years before she and her sister, Serena, reached the level of dominance and mainstream recognition that they enjoy today, despite the fact that Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe paved the way for black tennis players decades earlier. Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays did the same for the black baseball players of today.
Not all black men, women, boys and girls run track, play football or basketball, and there once was a time when black athletes did not or could not participate in those sports. Yes, Cullen Jones is an Olympic swimmer. Sal Masekela is an avid surfer and snowboarder. James Stewart Jr. is a professional motocross racer. Maya Lawrence is a member of the U.S. Olympic Fencing Team. Pernell Subban and Wayne Simmonds are professional ice hockey players. The list goes on. We must be careful not to reinforce the same stereotypes that have been perpetuated by others.
So, congratulations to Gabby. Her victories are well-deserved, and her story should serve as an inspiration to all Americans.