When Gabby Douglas won the individual all-around gold medal a few nights ago, NBC sports anchor Bob Costas called attention to the 16-year-old’s race. So did virtually every media outlet:
- “Olympic superstar Gabby Douglas, the first black gymnast to win the individual all-around gold medal, is inspiring young tumblers from across the city to give their all to the sport.” –The New York Daily News.
- “Douglas, a 4-foot-11, 94-pound puny package of rocket-fueled energy, on Thursday became the first black gymnast to win the individual all-around Olympic gold medal.” –New York Times
- “She’s the first African-American all-around Olympic champion” –Time magazine
- “She’s also the first African-American to win the all-around title.” –Washington Post
- “At 16-years-old, Douglas, who also made history as the first African-American woman to win the all-around gymnastics competition, could come back and do it all again in four years.” –ABC News
Slate writer Aisha Harris penned an entire article (titled Why I’m Proud a Black Gymnast Won Olympic Gold) about Douglas’ race:
Gabby Douglas has become the first black individual all-around gymnastics gold medalist in the Olympics, as well as just the fourth American woman to win the event. (The others: Mary Lou Retton, Carly Patterson, and Nastia Liukin.) I couldn’t be prouder. Sure, Jordyn Wieber, the reigning all-around world champion, came into the games with a lot of hype, but Gabby’s the only one I’ve really been paying attention to. I could say it’s because she’s an amazing athlete (she makes it all look so effortless, like Astaire in his dancing shoes) and that would be partially true. But a big reason why I’ve been cheering so hard for her is that the 16-year-old from Virginia looks like me, and that makes me incredibly happy.
I don’t usually throw my support blindly behind anyone of color, whether they’re athletes or politicians or business owners. In fact, I consciously avoid it since that can lead to ill-informed and naïve decisions. But seeing a young black girl perform such amazing feats in a sport where black faces are so rare has been nothing short of exhilarating, and it makes me throw aside my worries about having a racial bias towards a specific athlete.
Fast forward to last night. American distance runner Galen Rupp scored a silver medal — the first white male of any nationality to win a medal in the 10,000 meters since 1984 (28 years ago).
Twitter users (both black and white) noticed:
By contrast, NBC sports anchors Al Michaels and Jimmy Roberts said not one word about Rupp’s ethnicity. Nor did other media outlets.
We don’t like seeing Rupp reduced to “a white guy.” He is first and foremost an incredible athlete, just as Gabby Douglas is.
But could the media double standard be any more blatant? Make the media live up to their own rules.